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A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE 

MODERN AGE 







A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE 

MODERN AGE 



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I A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE MODERN AUK 

I Br EGON FRIEDliLL 

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TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY CHARLES FRANCIS ATKINSON' 


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IS 


PLAN OF THE COMPLETE WORK 

VOLUME I. 
INTRODUCTION 

Book One— Renaissance and 
Reformation: from the Black Death 
to the Thirty Years’ War 

VOLUME II. 

Book Two —Baroque and Rococo: 
from the Thirty Years’ War to 
the Seven Years’ War 

Book Three —Enlightenment and 
Revolution: from the Seven Years’ 
War to the Congress of Vienna 

VOLUME III. 

Book Four— Romanticism and 
Liberalism: from the Congress of 
Vienna to the Franco-German War 

Book Five— Imperialism and 
Impressionism: from the Franco- 
German War to the World War 


ALFRED 


KNOPF 


PUBLISHER 


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A CULTURAL HISTORY 
OF THE MODERN AGE 


S«BH 


THE CRISIS OF T II K 
K ir R OPE AN SOU L 


F R O M T H K BLACK D F, AT H 
T 0 T U K WOKL D W A R 


KCi ON KRIKDIiLL 


Translated from the German by 


CHARUvS FRANCIS ATKINSON 


With an introductory essay on FricdcZl 

• # 

by Ai-fkkd Poujar 


VOLUME 1 


VISION PRESS 


LONDON 














COPYRIGHT I927 BY 
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I95O BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC. 


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NEWSPAPER. 


PUBLISHED JANUARY, I 93 O 
SECOND PRINTING JANUARY, It^O 
THIRD PRINTING NOVEMBER, 1931 
FOURTH PRINTING JANUARY, 1 933 
FIFTH PRINTING APRIL, !Q^| 


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If anyone wonders why, 
after so many other histo¬ 
ries have been written , / also 
should have had the idea of 
writing one, let- him begin 
by reading through all those 
others, then turn to mine, 
and after that he may won¬ 
der, if he will. 


VLAVIUR ARRIANOS 
a. i). to- 1So) 



FOREWORD 


by Alfred Polgar 


Oni.y naiVIC imcrsons can believe that the release of intra- 
atomic energy would mean the solution of the social ques¬ 
tion. As a consequence of the activation of the atom, the 
top-dogs would only get more greedy, the under-dogs poorer, 
and the wars more bestial. To solve the social questions wo 
shall need moral fission. 


This sober footnote to an intoxicating theme can be found in A 
Cultural History of the Modern Age, written almost a quarter of a 
century ago by one of Max Reinhardt’s actors, Kgon Friedell, 
Ph.I). The opus, three spacious volumes, was published in the late 
twenties by Munich’s respectable publishing firm Beck, the Amer¬ 
ican translation by Alfred A. Knopf in 1930 2 (reprinted in 1933). 
The reviewers here and abroad sounded olT in perfect disharmony, 
but objection no less than recognition was expressed in su¬ 
perlatives. 

“ The three volumes have no rival in keenness, frank uncon¬ 
ventionality, philosophical sweep, and stylistic brilliance,” said 
the New York Times. “ With all these virtues ... a rotten book. 
A great idea in a state of dismemberment and decay,” ruled the 
New Republic. “ Challenging the opinions of the generally recog¬ 
nized authorities,” remarked the Christian Science Monitor. The 
Yale Review made both the weakness and the force of the Cultural 
History show up in the twilight of this statement: “ It will bring 
to the untutored reader far more reality than the authoritative 
text, in which every fact is true and the whole account, false.” 

Thus the judgments on Friedell’s book, so far as they are 
known to me, seem to agree after all: a brilliant miss, rich in con- 

This article first appeared under the title “ A Great Dilettante ” in the Antioch Rtwte<w 
in the summer of iy$o. Alfred Polgar, Vienna-horn, was a well-known C'ontinental critic 
before World War 11 , Since 194o he has made his home in America. 


IX 



If anyone wonders why, 
after so many other histo¬ 
ries have been written, I also 
should have had the idea of 
writing one, let him begin 
by reading through all those 
others, then turn to mine, 
and after that he may won¬ 
der, if he will. 

FLAVIUS ARRIANOS 

A. D. (q$-i8o) 



FOREWORD 


by Alfred Polgar 


Only naive persons can believe that the release of intra- 
atomic energy would mean the solution of the social ques¬ 
tion. As a consequence of the activation of the atom, the 
top-dogs would only get more greedy, the under-dogs poorer, 
and the wars more bestial. To solve the social questions we 
shall need moral fission. 

This sober footnote to an intoxicating theme can be found in A 
Cultural History of the Modern Age, written almost a quarter of a 
century ago by one of Max Reinhardt’s actors, Egon Friedell, 
Ph.D. The opus, three spacious volumes, was published in the late 
twenties by Munich’s respectable publishing firm Beck, the Amer¬ 
ican translation by Alfred A. Knopf in 1930-2 (reprinted in 1933). 
The reviewers here and abroad sounded off in perfect disharmony, 
but objection no less than recognition was expressed in su¬ 
perlatives. 

“ The three volumes have no rival in keenness, frank uncon¬ 
ventionality, philosophical sweep, and stylistic brilliance,” said 
the New York Times. “ With all these virtues . . . a rotten book. 
A great idea in a state of dismemberment and decay,” ruled the 
New Republic. “ Challenging the opinions of the generally recog¬ 
nized authorities,” remarked the Christian Science Monitor. The 
Yale Review made both the weakness and the force of the Cultural 
History show up in the twilight of this statement: “ It will bring 
to the untutored reader far more reality than the authoritative 
text in which every fact is true and the whole account false.” 

Thus the judgments on Friedell’s book, so far as they are 
known to me, seem to agree after all: a brilliant miss, rich in con- 

This article first appeared under the title c< A Great Dilettante ” in the Antioch Review 
in the summer of 1950, Alfred Polgar, Vienna-born, was a well-known Continental critic 
before World War II. Since 1940 he has made his home in America. 


IX 



vin rin g absurdities and hard-hitting antinomies, this is the delight¬ 
fully scandalizing work of an expert dilettante whose shortcom¬ 
ings are as considered as the intellectual revenue he draws from 
them. It has the provocative extraordinariness that, encountered 
in an individual, stigmatizes him as a personality. For this reason 
it will catch today’s reader, too, in its artfully woven net of narra¬ 
tive and meditation, of facts and ideas; and it will delight him 
with the glitter of its apposite epigrams, similes, and metaphors. 
Even the critical opposition noted the book’s “ mean cleverness ” 
and recommended it as a medicine against fatty degeneration of 
the mind. It has remained thoroughly alive in spite of its more 
than twenty years — a venerable age for a book in an epoch that 
makes years jump ahead of decades. Normally, a work on history 
enjoys, at such an age, permanent retirement on dusty top shelves 
(provided it is not suspected of classicism). 

Before his Cultural History appeared, Egon Friedell, Ph.D., 
was unknown to the scholastic world though a popular figure in 
Vienna’s night clubs. A drinker, hell-raiser, and merrymaker of 
Falstaffian format, he worked in the city’s cabarets as comedian, 
raconteur, improvisator, “ flash poet,” but he always insisted that 
a Ph.D. follow his name on the playbills, pour epater Ic bourgeois. 
Such puckish gestures, his genius for epitomizing in a few words 
the ridiculous in the mental make-up of his fellow men, his noisy 
presence, his alcoholic way of life, and the multitude of anecdotes 
whose hero he was, assured him in Vienna the rank and standing 
of a “ character.” The Viennese have always had a weakness for 
“ characters,” and their city has given birth to them in great num¬ 
bers, in many variations, and in various fields — from music to 
sweets. Vienna withdrew her sympathy only when originality 
threatened to deteriorate into genius. 

While preparing his Cultural History , Friedell moved to the 
legitimate stage. He was the unique case of an actor, an imperson¬ 
ator of men, who could impersonate no one but himself. Yet this 
made most of his stage figures only more juicy and more full of 
life than they would have been in their unviolated identity. Frie¬ 
dell, Ph.D., remained behind all masks the one and only Friedell, 
Ph.D., in body and spirit. His ego, unmistakably determined by 
very personal features and oddities, stepped out of every role. He 
stood always above or outside the stage situation in which he was 


x 



supposed to dwell. But Friedell’s “ mean cleverness ” knew how to 
mix his histrionic shortcomings into a core of synthetic talent. He 
turned his inability to disguise himself into the virtue of natural¬ 
ness ; and his lack of craftsmanship he made to look like enchant¬ 
ing lightness of acting. In a review of his Tubal in The Merchant 
of Venice I once wrote: “Mr. Friedell played most credibly an 
actor who plays Tubal.” (The constitution of our friendship, origi¬ 
nating in earliest youth, granted freedom of malice.) 

Friedell’s relation to the theater exemplifies what secures for 
this good European a niche in the history of his times. He stepped 
on the stage because the loose contact of an onlooker did not sat¬ 
isfy his love for the theater; and he felt urged to perform, not so 
much because of a special talent for the thing as because of a spe¬ 
cial passion for it. This, it seems to me, defines a civilized human 
type that has become most rare — the dilettante (the term used in 
its original noble sense). 

As an actor, an homme de lettres, a historian, Friedell was a 
dilettante in the grand manner. His was a dilettante’s genuine and 
voracious appetite for the totality of knowledge. He was at home 
(almost) in all landscapes of the mind, intimately familiar with 
arts and sciences as if each of them had been his specialty. He con¬ 
fessed to being a dilettante with the same zestfully provocative 
frankness with which he denounced himself as a plagiarist and as 
a man of the most inconsistent opinions on one and the same sub¬ 
ject. In the preface to his Cultural History he defends his claim to 
the title of dilettante with acute arguments (a claim of his, by the 
way, which has never been disputed by the professionals): “ Only 
the dilettante — also amateur or lover — stands in a really human 
relation to his objects. . . . The expert knows too much of the 
detail of his subject to see things simply enough, and, losing that, 
he loses the first essential of intellectual fertility.” Explicitly he 
insists on the dilettante’s privilege “ to talk about interrelations in¬ 
completely known, to report facts inaccurately observed, and to 
picture events never reliably recorded.” 

Imagination was to him the most dependable guide to truth. 
To follow this guide, no leap was too audacious for his playful and 
adventurous intellect. Friedell was already in his forties when he 
fell in love with the humanities. The affair became steady, was 
querulous and happy, but never reached the sheltered haven of 




marriage. And each of the fifteen hundred pages of the Cultural 
History betrays the offspring’s gay illegitimacy. 

The book gives a biography of Europe’s civilization from the 
Black Plague to the First World War, but the life and work of its 
author continue the tale. For Friedell’s personality faithfully re¬ 
flected his Europe during the pause between the two wars. 

It was a Europe suspended in mid-air between resignation and 
revolt, between cynicism and mysticism, between attempts to re¬ 
cover the lost safe ground and desperate attempts to interpret the 
loss as a gain. Friedell’s spacious mind gave hospitality to all these 
tendencies, but at the same time he was also looking for order. The 
inconsistencies of his personality seemed most accurately balanced 
against each other and he never lost his equilibrium. lie had an 
immeasurable joy of living; and the fear of life, which he had too, 
was resolved by his remarkably developed talent of finding life 
comical. A contemporary against his will, he escaped from the dis¬ 
quieting present into the comfortingly settled past, from the de¬ 
plorably real world into that of the theater (which he considered 
to be “ the well-nigh magical in our existence ”). Many of Europe’s 
literary figures, more sensitive in matters atmospheric than her 
statesmen and politicians, smelled the “ wind of darkness ” which, 
according to meteorological fables, precedes the great quakes. 
Friedell did not notice anything; or rather he did not want to. He 
retained his balance — to his personal misfortune. Allergic to any¬ 
thing that might have disturbed his work, or rather the comfort 
he needed for it, he kept jealously out of contemporary events. As 
a historian he knew that history is not made by higher intelligences 
but, on the contrary, by statesmen and politicians. A religious 
man, he also believed that superhuman powers determine the 
course of the world. A philosopher and an artist of life, he stood 
above given situations in reality just as on the stage. 

Europe, in Friedell’s days, was still suffering from the conse¬ 
quences of the last catastrophe and was already hit by symptoms 
of the approaching one. These menacing symptoms had begun to 
accumulate particularly in both the big and the small ventricles of 
Europe’s heart — Germany and Austria. But the old patient 
showed ghastly vitality, ran a productive fever; and his deliriums 
were full of good, even brilliant ideas. With the colors of decay, 
literature and the arts painted interesting ornaments as yet unsur- 

xii 



passed in their audacity. Even in Vienna, dried out by the dust 
storms of misery, intellectual life moved restlessly on, culminating 
in two such glaring figures as Karl Kraus, the most pertinent Ger¬ 
man satirist of his century, and the great dilettante Egon Friedell. 
Karl Kraus revenged his cruelly offended ideals in a frontal attack 
on reality. Friedell paid no attention to reality. He rather took a 
walk into the past to put bygone things in order, or at least to re¬ 
arrange them in a disorder that looked more plausible. From such 
expeditions into fully explored territory he brought back a rich 
booty of original insights and surprising allusions; and a new 
“philosophy of what had happened.” Gourmet that he was, he 
followed Faust’s advice: “ Feast on that which has gone long ago.” 
Delight formed the style of Friedell’s work. It gives his Cultural 
History the incomparable luster that has not yet faded. 

II 

Egon Friedell was a big, corpulent man, slow and heavy, with 
a voice and gestures that filled any room he entered. The bright 
eyes below the heavily modeled brow shone with intriguing enjoy¬ 
ment of men and things, and all-around love for them. His spites 
were candied with good nature. He manufactured them for the fun 
of it, never in order to hurt. Except for alcohol, he lived modestly 
and economically. In his last years — presumably because it did 
not fit with his established way of life — he took to elegance and 
wore a monocle on a gusty ribbon. His profile was Goethe-esque. 
This physiognomic accident was handy when he played the title 
role in the dramatic episode Goethe by Friedell and Polgar. (In 
this playlet the prince of poets, moved by pity, takes a badly pre¬ 
pared student’s place during an examination about Goethe. Of 
course he flunks miserably, showing himself particularly ill- 
informed on the scholarly data of his own biography. Friedell and 
I contributed this and many similar products of collaboration to 
the euphoria of mortally sick Vienna.) 

Friedell was a figure of the Victorian Baroque transplanted 
into the twentieth century, a philosopher and a clown, which fitted 
quite well with his own theory that “ the philosopher begins where 
man stops to take himself and his life seriously.” Accordingly, he 
held no brief for Berlin, where people never ceased to take them¬ 
selves very seriously indeed. In the court of a house in Berlin he 

xiii 



once saw a pile of huge boughs ; no twigs, no bark — the naked pic¬ 
ture of usefulness. “ That, I presume, is what these people make 
trees from,” said Friedell. He had a perfectly Viennese heart (con¬ 
taining genuine as well as fool’s gold) and a perfectly un-Viennese 
mental constitution. This made him immune to the atmosphere 
of the seductive city where talent likes to evaporate into emptiness 
and where the borders between work and play so slovenly disinte¬ 
grate. Friedell, on his part, drew these borders very strictly. He 
lived a painstakingly disorderly life, clearly divided into excess and 
abstinence, into mad and meditative periods, into days of indul¬ 
gence and days when he measured on a pharmacist’s scale the 
calories he allowed himself. His physical life followed the dialecti¬ 
cal scheme of thesis and antithesis, but never reached the synthesis 
— moderation. 

He was the peculiar phenomenon of a Bohemian nostalgic for 
the security of home and peace, a work-fanatic permeated by a 
“ pious belief in the sacredness of doing nothing.” It seems still a 
miracle how a human brain, even one of Friedell’s capacity, could 
ever accumulate the educational material that his Cultural His¬ 
tory displays so lavishly. One is inclined to assume that he did not 
necessarily study all those sciences and arts, all that literature, 
fiction and nonfiction, and all the literature about literature — this 
whole universe of information from which he drew ravishing col¬ 
ors for his work. More likely, the magnificent dilettante he was 
might have done like the dowser, Who does not plow the grounds 
bit by bit but digs only in places where the vibration in his hands 
indicates that he has found what he seeks. 

Fate had it that Egon Friedell was destroyed by his very civic 
virtues — his pedantic sense of order, his diligence, his dependence 
on habit. A few days before Austria disappeared in the German 
gorge, Friedell announced to friends his intention to commit 
suicide. He refused any thought of flight (for which he might have 
found easy opportunities). He seemed panically confused—not by 
physical fear, but because he was afraid of a radical disturbance of 
his routine. He could not bear the thought that he might have to 
part with his old-fashioned room, with his books, so endlessly 
marked on the margins. He could not face the probability that his 
files, tens of thousands of excerpts, would be hopelessly messed 
up. Not the menacing dissolution of his society, but the prospec- 


xiv 



tive disruption of his carefully planned timetable shocked him 
into self-destruction. On March 14, 1938, at night, when he saw 
SS men enter his house, he jumped through the window, dressed 
in his blue lounging-robe. Another version has it that SS men shot 
him in his room and threw him into the street. A relative of his 
who identified the corpse in the morgue thinks he noticed a bullet 
wound in the neck; but the woman who kept his house said it was 
suicide. 

He died a few weeks after his sixtieth birthday. To those who 
had remembered the occasion, he had mailed identical cards which 
said in cold print: “ Of all congratulations received on my sixtieth 
anniversary, yours has pleased me most.” He had remained a 
bachelor. In his ways with women he had the extremely unembar¬ 
rassed tenderness of a bear, but he did not think much of woman’s 
soul. 

Friedell was a Jew, but his appearance did not necessarily 
show it. So it happened that the theater critic of Vienna’s anti- 
Semitic Reichspost. was somewhat amazed when Friedell was cast 
as a Jewish lawyer in the play Criminals by Ferdinand Bruckner. 
“What’s all this, Doktor — you are playing a Jew? ” “My dear 
friend,” said Friedell, “ an actor must know how to do almost any¬ 
thing.” Friedell owned a summer cottage in Kufstein, in the 
Tyrol, right on the Bavarian border. Once, in the early spring of 
the Hitler regime, he took a walk into Bavaria and there he saw, 
across a cozy village road, a white banner with the crudely painted 
words: “ Jews Not Welcome.” This expression of a negative desire, 
displayed just like the “Welcome!” banner at a county fair, 
struck him as incredibly funny. The grotesque.aspect pleased him 
more than the evil scared him. 

His humor was an offshoot of an affair a dissatisfied, skeptical 
brain had had with a perpetually content temperament. And his 
humor acted as a balance in the clockwork of his soul: when, in 
March 1938, he lost it for the first and last time in his life, he him¬ 
self was lost. Until then he seemed to be a man completely in 
agreement with the world, whose evil he thought was more than 
compensated for by its foolishness. To this foolishness he con¬ 
tributed his decent share. He was a humorist by appointment of 
the Lord, equipped for it with every talent needed (among other 
things, with an inherited monthly income). 


xv 



In the theater he was the darling and the horror of his col¬ 
leagues. His phlegm and his slowness made him look provoca¬ 
tively out of place amidst all the nervous theater business. On 
opening nights, just a few minutes before his cue, Friedell used 
to retreat to the one room that gives privacy even backstage, to 
contemplate some more the deeper meaning of his role, as befits a 
Ph.D. The staccato of the fists of co-actors, as they desperately 
drummed at the door of his retreat, warned him he was about to 
miss his cue. (He never did.) He was not exactly popular with 
Reinhardt’s playwrights. “How do you like my play? ” one of 
them once asked him. “ Magnificent,” said Friedell, “ though it has 
stretches of length.” “ It still has ? ” queried the exasperated au¬ 
thor. “ I have already cut half of it, as is.” “ Well,” said Friedell, 
“ in such a case half measures are of little use.” 

The enfant terrible in him was on perfect terms with Friedell 
the conscientious scholar; and the mutual understanding is mani¬ 
fest on many a page of A Cultural History, In his nest, built of 
books, manuscripts, and comfortably familiar furniture, Friedell, 
wrapped in the most grandfatherly dressing-gown I have ever seen, 
looked like an alchemist in his den. Whenever he thought the 
brew he had just mixed was good, he would lie down on the faded 
couch and sing. This was a signal for Hermine, the housekeeper, 
to come in, and Friedell would read to her the latest few pages. He 
called this the moron test.” He used to smoke enormous, intri¬ 
cately wound pipes of legendary college days, drink red wine in 
gargantuan quantities; and in the intervals of his daily routine 
he wrote a profound play in five acts, The Judas Tragedy. Fie loved 
dogs, preferring unpedigreed, screwy ones. Schnick, an ugly midget 
of a Pomeranian (whom he had adopted in a dog asylum because 
nobody wanted to keep the pathetic creature), was educated 
strictly toward the standards of his master. “ Bring me the news¬ 
paper.” The dog did. “ Do you know what’s in there ? ” The dog 
shook his head. “ A miserable review of your master.” Whereupon 
Schnick furiously tore the paper to shreds. A popular diversion in 
the summer season was for Friedell to swim on his back far into 
the lake, carrying the little creature on his towering belly. From 
tune to time Friedell spouted a mouthful of water vertically into 
the air to give Schnick the illusion he was traveling on a whale. 

xvi 



When his droll comrade died, Friedell wrote this exhaustive 
eulogy: “ Whoever knew him will comprehend my grief.” 
Schnick’s successor was called Scluiack. 



So it is understandable that people who knew this Friedell were 
greatly surprised when they learned what this mad bird had 
hatched in complet e secrecy — a voluminous, learned book which 
gave the lie to the angry remark of the old Goethe that “ the Ger¬ 
mans possess the particular gift of making science inaccessible.” 
The science Friedell served in his Cultural History of the Modern 
Age tastes of first-rate entertainment. And this taste was not 
achieved by simplifying and adulterating the ingredients (as 
‘‘popularized” science usually does) but by a cooking process 
which unlocked the matter, extracted indigestible particles, and 
applied generous seasonings. 

Educated Viennese found it difficult to tolerate the offense 


their most prolific jokester had committed by deserting into the 
land of scholastics. But they forgave him when it was discovered 
that there was a lot of genuine Friedellisms in the Cultural His¬ 
tory; that Friedell’s humor showed through the solid text as the 
watermark shows through good paper. For this very reason the 
book aroused the anger of the craft; they considered it disqualified 
by its very quality — namely, by its ability to present science in 
such a way that it seemed to have lost its whiskers of dignified 
boredom. By the same token, the Cultural History evoked the de¬ 
light of educated laymen. True, this book negated information 
and insights they had appreciated as established; forced their eyes 
to adjust themselves to uncommon perspectives; made them use 
the elasticity of their brains for dangerous mental leaps. But all 
this was done painlessly — the spirit and the wit of the author 
acted as a dependable anesthesia. 

Six centuries of man’s history are unrolled in Friedell’s work 
as an impressionistic painting in words — words of a magnificent 
writer. Resistance to some of his doctrines and interpretations is 
disarmed by the grace and esprit of the performance. What he says 
of the English satirists of the early eighteenth century goes for 
himself: “ They open some valve in their brains and immediately 


xvii 



a gay cloud of paradoxes, malicious jabs, and bon mots escapes. 
Friedell did not share the German conviction that water, to be be¬ 
lieved deep, has to be opaque. His language, now cuttingly sharp 
and then again poetic, is of Latin precision, admits air and light, 
has elasticity. 

The Cultural History sparkles with formulations of deadly 
elegance. For Leopardi, the Italian poet and hater of the universe, 
Friedell wrote this fine epitaph: “ He rejected the world in verse 
of such moving beauty that he was converted to it.” The discus¬ 
sion of Emerson contains this bit of malice: “ He appeared at. a 
time when America was already confronted with the danger of 
becoming completely Americanized”; and ends with the tender 
phrase: “He stops still, listens to his heart, and writes as he 
listens.” 

In the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 an obscure Austrian Gen¬ 
eral Krismanic was the opposite number of General Moltke. “ Was 
it likely that a man called Moltke would be defeated by a man 
called Krismanic? ” remarks Friedell, in whose historical circus 
the clown has his place. 

The Eiffel Tower, to Friedell, is significant of the mediocre art- 
appreciation of its time. “ For which reason it is so suitable as a 
model for knick-knacks: it is inconceivable that the Cheops Pyra¬ 
mid could be copied for pincushions.” 

In the Renaissance, “ drunk with earthiness,” he liked among 
other things “ the grace, the good breeding, the perfect manners — 
one might almost say, the tact — with which people killed one an¬ 
other.” In the Reformation he saw “ the victory of the science of 
faith over faith itself, the victory of theology over religion.” Peri¬ 
wig and face powder, the exterior features of the Rococo, Friedell 
interprets like this: “ The Rococo felt old and longed desperately 
to hold on to youth. So it erased differences in age with the peri¬ 
wig, and made the powder crust on faces a universal uniform. The 
young or young-painted face with its white hair is the tragic mask 
of the time.” The epoch of enlightenment gets this specification: 
“ The gardens of science, during the Renaissance fenced by the 
barbed wire of Latin scholarship, are now opened for general use.” 
The career of coffee, “ the characteristic beverage of the mature 
Baroque, Friedell (himself an addict) explains with the power of 
coffee to produce “ sober intoxication.” For the mental disease of 

xviii 



Nietzsche he gave this diagnosis: “ He suffers from megalomania: 
he thinks he is Nietzsche.” He calls Andersen “ a poet so profound 
that children could understand him.” And this occurs to him as a 
characterization of Hamlet’s mentality: “ Though he still believes 
in ghosts, he has, on the other hand, already read his Montaigne.” 
Friedell’s formula for the British bourgeois: “ On Sundays, the 
Bible is his ledger; on weekdays, the ledger his Bible.” (Even so, 
an unabridged German edition of the Cultural History was pub¬ 
lished in London in 1940, the most desperate year of Britain’s war 
against Germany.) 

In this book, logic and imagination co-operate and agree. Re¬ 
freshing air blows venerable dust from historical objects, and 
sometimes it removes the objects with the dust. The reading gives 
threefold pleasure: a spiritual joy due to the penetrating and 
wholly unconventional intelligence at work; an aesthetic joy due 
to the linguistic brilliance of the presentation; and the great pleas¬ 
ure of self-conceit due to the manifold objections which the author 
so generously plays into the reader’s hands, leaving him with the 
illusion of being just as clever as Egon Friedell, Ph.D. 

He makes use, with virtuosity, of the dialectician’s black magic 
that unifies the ununifiable. Positively and negatively charged evi¬ 
dence is equalized through the lightning of the paradox. For, in 
Friedell’s opinion, the path of the truth-seeker leads him inescap¬ 
ably into the realm of paradoxes: every thought, when thought 
through to the end, results in its opposite. Friedell is a master of 
the technique of knotting contradictory beginnings and ends into 
one single dictum. The forte of his Cultural History is to evoke 
opposition in the reader, to keep him in cerebral tension. It pro¬ 
vokes him with the radicalism of its judgments; with an appetite 
for reopening the trail on events and figures on whom definitive 
historical sentence seems to have been passed; and with the use of 
“ exaggeration as an essential tool.” 

In addition to proudly claimed dilettantism, exaggeration, and 
paradoxes, Friedell insists on his right to say again what others 
have said before. Goethe had put it this way: “ Everything perti¬ 
nent has been thought before — one has merely to try to think it 
once more.” Friedell finds a tougher formulation: “ The whole in¬ 
tellectual history of mankind is a history of theft. . . . All world 
literature actually consists of plagiarisms.” 


xix 



With all the fervor he is capable of, Friedell believes (hat “ God 
and the soul are the only realities, but the world unreal.” The 
palette of FriedelPs critique of the world lacks the color of moral 
indignation; but any doubt of that “ serene message ” unbalanced 
his philosophical reserve. An early essay by the German philoso¬ 
pher Eduard von Hartmann, somewhat, polemical against the 
“ economy of Salvation,” so offended the author of the Cultural 
History that he refused ever to take a look at the considerably 
more pertinent mature writings of the delinquent. (This reminds 
one of Schnick, who tore up the whole paper because he disliked 
what it said about his master.) 

The author of the Cultural History sees, of course, events and 
figures of the past with the eyes of a twentieth-century man (the 
“pathos of distance ”), but also the way a contemporary might 
have seen them (that is, exposing nearness). This twofold perspec¬ 
tive lifts FriedelPs presentations from the plane into the two and a 
half dimensions of the relief. He establishes a hierarchy of cultural 


spheres. On the top of the pyramid he puts religion; at its base, 
economic life. In fact, economics is not considered to partake of 
culture at all, but to be merely one of her preconditions. Conse¬ 
quently Friedell, though he considers Karl Marx “ the most intlu- 
ential scholar of the nineteenth century,” calls Marx-sponsored 
economic determinism “ a barbarian banality.” 

FriedelPs three volumes are rather rough-and-ready with such 
forceful labeling, and no veil of courtesy covers their author’s dis¬ 
likes. The above-mentioned Eduard von Hartmann he calls “ the 


yokel of pessimism, ... a clowning stooge ” of David Friedrich 
Strauss (the materialistic biographer of Jesus). Strauss himself 
he identifies as “ the perfect type of the intelligent ass.” Although 
he did not deny that the French Revolution had some merits, 
Friedell considered it, on second thought, “ brilliant trash.” Psycho¬ 
analysis — a much-whipped hobbyhorse of his — is credited with 
having opened some new mental roads, but at the end of these 
roads he sees “ a world ugly and without God,” (Rilke, in his War¬ 
time Letters , said it somewhat more pleasingly: “ In driving out 
his [man’s] devils, it [psychoanalysis] offends his angels.”) 


xx 



IV 

The Cultural History tells a “legend of modern times.” Its 
vision and its interpretation of historic events are based on three 
cardinal ideas. 

The first: A Superior Will determines the course of the world; 
the drama of mankind develops according to an outline conceived 
by God. And the Cultural History makes no attempt to discover 
that outline. But with the finished parts of the play, which are its 
subject, the Cultural History deals like a dramaturgist who makes 
scenes much tighter than the playwright (in this case, reality) 
has written them. 

The second idea (taken from Oswald Spengler): The history 
of mankind moves not in straight lines but in closed cycles. The 
Cultural History finds such a cycle — a perfect one — in the six 
centuries that it calls modern times. Its beginning is located in the 
year of the Black Plague, 1348, interpreted as the great trauma 
that brought about a spiritual regrouping of European humanity. 
It took European man a hundred years to overcome the psychosis 
caused by the shock of that great malady. Around the middle of 
the fifteenth century he discovers himself as a cogitating being; 
and from there on, the whole history of modern times is nothing 
but the history of world conquest by man’s mind. The cycle closes 
with another great trauma — World War I. Man begins to doubt 
his mind, and signs appear on the horizon to announce a complete 
reversal of his world awareness. 

The third leading idea: Times are altogether the creation of 
the Great Man, just as the Great Man is altogether the creation of 
his times. The genius is no accidental product of his epoch but 
(though, paradoxically, the two have nothing to do with each 
other) its most concise expression. Geniuses are the “ representa¬ 
tive men ” of their age. In them it reveals its “ blood circulation and 
pulse frequency,” its specific pace of life. They are “ the compen¬ 
dium into which the desires and the works of their contemporaries 
seem to have been condensed.” In the Cultural History Descartes, 
for example, is the quintessential figure of the Baroque, which pe¬ 
riod is simply called “ the Cartesian age.” Voltaire is the French 
Enlightenment in person, Shakspere the lens collecting all the 

xxi 




In spite of their scholarly content, Friedell’s three volumes are 
a work of fiction. Clearly, fiction has built these three spacious 
structures according to fiction’s inherent laws; and science and 
philosophy live there only as tenants. 

V 

The German edition of the Cultural History is dedicated to 
Max Reinhardt, who had discovered, or rather invented, the au¬ 
thor for the stage. But the English edition was dedicated to Ber¬ 
nard Shaw — a very proper homage: the poet of the Unpleasant 
Plays and the poet of the Cultural History are indeed brothers in 
the spirit of irony and reform, or, anyway, cousins. The acknowl¬ 
edging letters from London sent “ greetings to the Austrian Shaw, 
from the English one.” Less understandable is the dedication of 
the first magnificent volume of Friedell’s Cultural History of An¬ 
cient Times (as yet not translated into English): “ To ICnut Ham¬ 
sun.” The volume appeared in Switzerland in 1936, when Hamsun 
had already said his clamorous “ amen ” to the German curse. But 
then, of course, Friedell did not read newspapers. The Norwegian 
accepted with enthusiasm: “ The dedication of your book was a 
greater honor than the Nobel Prize.” Friedell had not yet finished 
the second volume of the Cultural History of Ancient Times when 
the Nazis, so near Hamsun’s heart, moved the author to the 
morgue. 

Friedell’s great historical opus towers over the rest of his liter¬ 
ary production. There was The Judas Tragedy; a little book on 
Jesus Christ; an anthology of satirical gems selected from the 
works of the great Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy; another 
anthology of anecdotes by and about the Viennese poet Peter Alten- 
berg; and, finally, a volume of Friedell aphorisms, his Small Phi¬ 
losophy, published in 1930. (A sample aphorism: “ When Jupiter 
was in love, he came disguised as a bull, as a rain of gold, as a 
singing swan, or as a cloud. For women love bulls, rains of gold, 
singing swans, and, particularly, clouds. But never would Jupiter 
come as Jupiter.”) 

A lot has happened since the publication of the Cultural His¬ 
tory of the Modern Age — certainly enough to revalue historical 
evaluations. Many a truth of yesterday is a casualty of today’s ex¬ 
perience, many a great event of the past has lost its greatness, many 

xxiii 



a glorified figure its glory. (Hitler has liquidated Napoleon’s 
magic much more radically than the most spiteful Napoleon- 
debunkers could ever have done.) The present throws its deep 
shadow into the past, changes the shades of light and dark in the 
landscape of yesterday. The pictures drawn by historians are los¬ 
ing accuracy and validity. All this considered, Friedell’s Cultural 
History has nicely survived the Decline of the West or, anyway, 
its dress rehearsal. A fascinating book, it remains well preserved 
in its own spirit. It can stand the improved measurements we 
must now apply to intellectual products. Nothing in this book has 
become outdated—‘except, perhaps, the serenity of the spirit it 
reflects. 


xxrv 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 


INTRODUCTION 


What is Cultural History and Why is it Studied? 


THE FORGOTTEN STAR— ALL THINGS HAVE THEIR PHILOSOPHY-AESTHETIC, 

ETHICAL, LOGICAL HISTORY-WRITING-MAP AND PORTRAIT — SCHOOL-BOOK 

HISTORY - li N SCIENTIFIC CHARACTER OF THE BASIC CONCEPTS OF HISTORY- 

WRITING-SUBTERRANEAN COURSE OF HISTORICAL ACTION-RANKE’S ERROR- 

ALL HISTORY IS LEGEND-HOMUNCULUS AND EUPHORION — <C HISTORICAL 

NOVELS^- INCOMPLETENESS AS FAR AS POSSIBLE-EXAGGERATION-ECO¬ 
NOMICS — SOCIETY -STATE — CUSTOM — SCIENCE, ART, PHILOSOPHY, RELI¬ 

GION — THE PHILOSOPHERS 1 STONE — THE REPRESENTATIVE MAN — THE 

EXPRESSIONIST DOG-SPIRITUAL COSTUME-HISTORY—GENIUS IS A PRODUCT 

OF THE AGE-THE AGE IS A PRODUCT OF THE GENIUS-GENIUS AND AGE ARE 

INCOMMENSURABLE-PEDIGREE-LESSING AND HERDER —WINCKELMANN AND 

VOLTAIRE- HEGEL AND COMTE — BUCKLE — BURCK IIARDT —TAINE — LAMP- 

RECHT-BREYSIG-SPENGLKR- HISTORY IN A LATE PERIOD-PRO DOMO- 

r IHK PROFESSIONAL DILETTANTE — THE INEVITABLE PARADOX — THE LEGITIMATE 
PLAGIARIST-PATHOLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL ORIGINALITY. 3 


BOOK i: RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION 

From the Black Death to the Thirty Years 9 War 
chapter i : The Beginning 


THE WILL TO PIGEON-HOLE—THE RIGHT TO PERI0DI7.E— THE CONCEPTION 
OF THE NEW MAN — THE u TRANSITIONAL PERIOD” — BEGINNING OF THE EX¬ 
CURSUS ON THE VALUE OF SICKNESS — THE HEALTHIEST BEING IS THE AM CEB A — 
ALL THAT IS BECOMING IS DECADENT—HIGHER VALUE OF ORGANS IN LOWERED 
CONDITION — HEALTH IS, THEREFORE, A METABOLISM-SICKNESS —THE LERNiEAN 
HYDRA — THE ACHILLES OUT OF THE HEEL—THE SURVIVAL OF THE UNFIT — 
GENIUS IS NEVER HEALTHY — GENIUS IS NEVER SICK—THE THREEFOLD DIVISION 
OF MANKIND — PRODUCTION AS A REFUGE. 5 1 


chapter ii : The Mediaeval Soul 

THE “ ROMANTICISM ” OF THE MIDDLE AGES — LIFE AS ADVENTURE — 
PSYCHOSIS OF PUBERTY — THE SAINTED DOG — NO RELATION TO MONEY — 
UN I VERS ALIA SUNT REALIA — THE WORLD-CATHEDRAL — THE PHYSICS OF 
BELIEF — EVERYTHING IS — THE SCENE CHANGES. Jl 



chapter ixi : The Incubation Period 


THE DISCOVERY OF THE PLAGUE — THE PARALLEL EPIDEMIC -THE WELL- 

POISONERS -COSMIC DISTURBANCE-WORLD-DOWNFALL-DETHRONEMENT OF 

UNIVERSALS-CHRIST IN THE DONKEY-THE TWO FACES OF NOMINALISM 

-TWILIGHT — FOLIE CIRCULAIRE-ANARCHY FROM ABOVE- LOOSENING OF 

THE ORDERS OF SOCIETY-SICKENING OF THE METAPHYSICAL ORGAN-PRAC¬ 
TICAL NIHILISM — INTENSIFIED ECONOMIC LIFE-RISE OF THE GUILDS — 

PROFESSIONAL DILETTANTISM — DAWN OF RATIONALISM -POETRY OF ACTUALITY 

— EMANCIPATION-DECAY OF CHIVALRY-TILE GREAT TRANSVALUATION - 

PICTURESQUE FILTH — ORIENTAL TUMULT-STANDARD OF LIVING-THE OPEN 

ROADS-THE HOLY FEHME-EROTIC DRIVEN OUT BY SEXUALITY-THE CUL¬ 
TURE OF THE TABLE-THE WORLD-NIGHTMARE-THE FOURFOLD PINCERS- 

THE LUXEMBURG COMET-CROWNED PARANOIACS-ENGLISH-FRENCH CHAOS 

-ANTI-CLERICALISM-WYCLIF — PAPA TRIUMPHANS-DAEMONS AND MAGI¬ 
CIANS— MONEY ECONOMICS WITH A BAD CONSCIENCE-THE WORLD-IiROTIIKL 

-MOTLEY — THE VISION—THRONED STOCKBROKERS-THE NIHILIST ON THE 

THRONE-THE THREE DECEIVERS-COINCIDENTIA OPPOSITORUM- NICOLAUS 

CUSANUS-DUAL TRUTH, DOUBLE-ENTRY BOOKKEEPING, COUNTERPOINT, AND 

DANCE OF DEATH — THE OVERSOUL-THE NEW RELIGION-THE SCHOOL OF 

ECKHART-THE “ FRANKFORTER ”-MYSTICISM OF THE PAINTERS-A PAR¬ 
ALLEL — WORLD’S DAWN. f{ i 


chapter iv : La Rinascita 

THE TWO POLES — CULTURE CONSISTS IN WEALTH OF PROBLEMS—THE 
ITALIAN MICROCOSM —THE “ LATIN FORMATION ”— THE REBIRTH TO GODLIKE¬ 
NESS-FAREWELL TO THE MIDDLE AGES-CHRONOLOGY OF THE RENAISSANCE 

— Italy’s start — the heyday of early capitalism — the renaissance 

CITY — COMFORT — ARTISTIC MEALS — THE WORLD OF TIIK PROFILE — BIRTH 

OF THE REVOLVER PRESS-THE DIVINE ARETINO-LA GRANDE PUTANA_ 

L UOMO UNIVERSALE-THE RENAISSANCE PUBLIC-THE <C DISUNITY 99 OF ITALY 

-THE RETURN TO THE CLASSICAL-PETRARCH-THE PSKUDO-RKNAISsSANCK_ 

THE CINQUECENTO — THE WILL TO STYLIZE—A SOPHIST AGE-THE HU¬ 
MANISTS— THE “ LITERARY” CHARACTER OF THE RENAISSANCE-THE RIFT 

IN THE CULTURE PREDOMINANCE OF FORM-ART — MICHELANGELO — LEO- 

NARDO — RAPHAEL-RAPHAEL’S VICISSITUDES OF FAME-THE DARLING OF 

THE GODS THE BASIC ERROR OF CLASSICISM-MACHIAVELLI-“ IMMOR- 

ALISM THE GUILT OF THE RENAISSANCE—BEAUTY OR GOODNESS_THK 

SECOND FALL OF MAN. . ' 


chapter v: Reason takes charge 

WORLD-HISTORY AS A DRAMATIC PROBLEM — THE DRAMA OF THE MODERN 
AGE —THE NEW LOOK — THE CURVE FROM I 50 O TO 1000—THE MYSTICAt 
EXPERIENCE-WORLD OF THE “ PRIMITIVES ” — PRE-LOGICAL OR SUPER-LOGICAL? 

THE RATIONALIST INTERMEZZO — THE THREE BLACK ARTS — PARACELSUS — 
CANNON-FODDER AND MOVABLE TYPES — COPERNICUS—THE CONQUEST OF 
CAPE NON —COLUMBUS—ROUND THE GLOBE IN ELEVEN HUNDRED DAYS 



-THE CRIME OF THE CONQUISTA-THE LATE CULTURE OF MEXICO- 

CHRISTIAN ELEMENTS IN AZTEC RELIGION-THE WHITE GOD-PERU- 

AMERICA^ RETURN GIFT-FAUST — TRIUMPH OF MAN OVER GOD-FROM THE 

THEORETIC TO THE GEOCENTRIC WORLD PICTURE-THE AUGUSTINE MONK. 

199 


chapter vi : The German Religion 


GOD AND THE PEOPLES-THE FOUR COMPONENTS OF THE REFORMATION- 

THE NIGHTINGALE OF WITTENBERG-REFORMERS BEFORE THE REFORMATION- 

WORDS AND DEEDS-THE DUAL ASPECT OF LUTHER-THE LAST OF THE MONKS 

-JEHOVAH INDELEBILIS-LUTIIER’s DAMASCUS-LUTHER’S HEROIC PERIOD 


luther’s 


pope 


TRIUMPH 


OF GUTENBERG MAN OVER GOTHIC MAN- 

LUTHER AS CREATOR OF A LANGUAGE-LUTHER AND THE ARTS —LUTHER AND 

THE PEASANTS 5 WAR-LUTIIEr’s SLACKENING-LUTHER AND TRANSUBSTAN- 

TIATION-LUTHER AND THE DOGMA OF JUSTIFICATION-PAUL-THE 

JUDAIC APOSTLE-AUGUSTINE-CALVINISM-TIIE RADICALS-SEBASTIAN 

FRANCK-BIRTH OF CABINET POLITICS-PSYCHOLOGY OF THE HABSBURGS- 

THE SECRET OF CHARLES V — VICTORY OF THEOLOGY OVER RELIGION-THE 

MONSTER OF CREATION-GROBIANISM-RABELAIS-PLEBEIANISM UNMITI¬ 
GATED STILL-THE CLASSIC AGE OF REPLETION-THE LANDSKNECHT STYLE- 

HEGEMONY OF CRAFT-ART-THE WITCHES’ HAMMER-WITCH-MANIA AND 

PSYCHOANALYSIS-SECULARIZATION OF HUMANITY-THE ANTI-EVANGELICAL 

EVANGELICAL — JESUS AND THE <£ SOCIAL QUESTION” — GOD AND THE SOUL — 
HOLY IDLENESS. 229 


chapter vii : The Night of St. Bartholomew 

THE EARTHLY HELL-THE COUNTERSTROKE-THE COUNCIL OF TRENT — 

PAN-EUROPEAN INTOLERANCE-ANGLICANISM-NATURAL LAW-THE ARMY 

OF JESUS-THE INIQUITY OF JESUITISM — PHILIP II — THE WORLD-ESCORIAL 

— SPANISH COLONIAL POLICY-THE REVOLT OF THE NETHERLANDS-COLLAPSE 

of philip’s system — don juan and don quixote — world-rule of the 

SPANISH STYLE-FRENCH CLASSICISM AND COMIC-OPERA NATURALISM-THE 

SCEPTIC AFFIRMATION OF LIFE—THE MONTAIGNE-MAN — JAKOB BOHME — 
GIORDANO BRUNO-FRANCIS BACON-THE RISE OF ENGLAND—THE ELIZA¬ 
BETHAN MAN-THE AWKWARD AGE OF CAPITALISM-THE EXACT SCIENCES — 

THE WORLD OF TIIE TELESCOPE-THE CHARACTER OF BACON-BACON AS 

PHILOsSOPHER — BACON BEFORE BACON — BAC0N ? S ANTI-PHILOSOPHY — BACON’S 

FAME—THE HOMELY KING-THE SOUL OF SHAKSPERE—SHAKSPERE’S 

THEATRE — THE WORLD AS A DREAM — THE AGONY OF THE RENAISSANCE — 
THE SECOND TRAUMA — THE NEW QUESTION. 294 


CHRONOLOGY 349 


INDEX 


Follows page 353 




INTRODUCTION 


What is Cultural History and Why is it Studied? 




<c To give an accurate description of what 
has never occurred, is not merely the proper 
occupation of the historian^ hut the inalien- 
able privilege of any man of parts and, cul¬ 
ture” 

Oscar Wilde 

Through the unfathomable depths of space there wander count¬ 
less stars, luminous thoughts of God, blest instruments on which 
the Creator plays. They are all happy — for God desires a happy 
world. A single one there is amongst them which does not share 
this happiness; on it, only men have arisen. 

How did this come about? Did God forget that star? Or did 
He honour it supremely by giving it leave to soar into bliss through 
its own efforts? We do not know. 

A tiny fraction of the history of this tiny star forms the sub¬ 
ject of our story. 

We shall do well first to examine briefly the fundamental prin¬ 
ciples of the work. They are fundamental in the most literal sense, 
for they lie at the base of the whole structure and, therefore, al¬ 
though they support it, are underground and not easily visible. 

The first of these fundamental pillars is formed by our own 
view of the nature of history-writing. We start from the conviction 
that history has both an artistic side and a moral side and cannot, 
therefore, be scientific in character. 

History-writing is the philosophy of what has happened. All 
things have their own philosophy—indeed, all things are philoso¬ 
phy. Men and objects and events are embodiments of a definite 
nature-idea, a peculiar world-purpose. Human intellect has to 
grope for the idea that lies hidden in every fact, the thought of 
which it is the mere form. It often happens that things reveal their 
true meaning at a late stage only. How long it was before the 
Saviour revealed to us the simple, elementary fact of the human 
soul; how long before magnetic steel yielded up the secret of its 
marvellous powers to the seeing eye of Gilbert, and how many 


T 

forgott 

si 


All thin { 
have tkt 
philosof, 


3 



mysterious natural forces are still patiently waiting for one to 
come and release the thought that is in them! That things happen 
is nothing: that they should become known, everything. Man had 
had his slim, well-proportioned bodily structure, his upright, no¬ 
ble gait, and his world-scanning eye for thousands and thousands 
of years; in India and Peru, in Memphis and Persepolis; but he 
only became beautiful in the moment when Greek art recognized 
his beauty and copied it. That is why plants and animals seem 
always to be wrapped in a peculiar melancholy: they all have 
beauty, they all symbolize one or another of creation’s profound 
thoughts, but they do not know it, and are sad. 

As the whole world is created for the poet, created to fertilize 
him, so the whole world-history is similarly made up of materials 
for poets in deed or poets in word. That is its meaning. But who is 
the poet to whom it gives wings for new deeds and new dreams ? 
All posterity — no more, no less. 

Msthctic , It has become usual of late to distinguish three methods of 

"logical history: the referring or narrative method, which simply 

history - records events; the pragmatic or instructive method, which links 
wntmg events by supplying motives and at the same time seeks to draw 
useful deductions from them; and the genetic or evolutionary 
method, which aims at presenting events as an organic ensemble 
and course. This classification is, however, anything but strict, 
since, as a glance will show, these various ways of regarding his¬ 
tory overlap: the reference-narrative impinges on the pragmatic 
or linking variety, and this again on the evolutionary, and not 
one of them is conceivable as wholly separate from the other two. 
The classification can, therefore, only be used to this vague and 
limited extent: in considering each variety, one of the three points 
of view will be in the foreground. Thus we shall arrive at the fol¬ 
lowing results: in the narrative method, which is primarily con¬ 
cerned with presenting a clear record, the esthetic motive is para¬ 
mount ; in the pragmatic method, where stress is laid above all 
on instructive application and the moral of the business, it is the 
ethical motive which plays the chief part; and in the genetic 
method, which strives to present history to the reason with vivid 
immediacy as an ordered sequence, the logical motive is para¬ 
mount. It follows that the different ages have always preferred one 
or other of these three methods, each according to its spiritual foun- 

4 



dations: the Classical age, in which pure contemplation was de¬ 
veloped to the utmost, produced the Classical historian of the 
reference-narrative order; the eighteenth century, with its tend¬ 
ency to submit all problems to a moralizing test, can show the 
most brilliant instances of the pragmatic method; and the nine¬ 
teenth century, bent on reducing everything to logic, clear con¬ 
cepts, and rationality, brought forth the finest fruits of the genetic 
kind. All three methods have their particular merits and weak¬ 
nesses, but it is clear that in each the driving, creative motive is 
supplied by a definite interest, whether aesthetic, ethical, or logical 
in character: the determining though ever-changing criterion of 
the historian is invariably the “ interesting.” Nor is this point of 
view quite so subjective as would appear, for it is controlled (at 
least within one and the same period) by larger conformities of 
opinion; but this does not, of course, mean that we can call it 
objective. 

It might be supposed, now, that narrative history-writing, if 
limited to a dry, expert setting-forth of facts, would be the first to 
achieve the ideal of objective representation. Yet even the mere 
reference type (an intolerable form, it must be said, and one which, 
except at quite primitive levels, is never attempted) takes on a 
subjective character through the unavoidable selection and group¬ 
ing of the facts. Indeed, the function of all thinking — and, for 
that matter, of our whole imaginative life — consists without ex¬ 
ception in this elective, selective procedure, which, in the mere 
course of its operation, arranges its extracts from reality in a 
definite order. And this process, performed unconsciously by our 
sense-organs, is repeated consciously in the natural sciences. 
There is nevertheless one cardinal difference. The selection made 
by our sense-organs and by the natural sciences, which are built up 
on what those organs communicate, is finally determined by the 
human genus, according to strict and unequivocal laws which 
control the thought and imagination of every normal person. The 
choice of historical material, on the other hand, is determined by 
the free opinion of individuals, of particular groups of individuals, 
or (in the most favourable conditions) by the public opinion of a 
whole age. Some years ago, Professor Erich Becher of Munich 
made an attempt in his Geisteszoissenschaften und Naturwissen- 
schaften to produce a sort of comparative anatomy of the sciences, 

k 

5 


Map an 
portra 



a technology of individual disciplines, standing in relation to these 
much as dramaturgy stands to the art of the theatre. We hnd in 
his work the following sentence: “Science simplifies the incom¬ 
prehensible complexity of reality through abstraction. • • • I he 
historian, in sketching a portrait of Freiherr vom Stein, separates 
it out from innumerable details of his life and work, and the 
geographer, working out a mountain tract, separates out his pic¬ 
ture from mole-hills and furrows.” But from this very juxtapo¬ 
sition it becomes evident that geography and history cannot be 
co-ordinated as sciences on a common level. For while there is a 
quite unmistakable sign for mole-hill and furrow - namely, the 
simple optical one of size and extension — no such generally ap¬ 
plicable formula can be established for the corresponding negli¬ 
gible quantities” in Stein’s biography. The poetic intuition, the 
historical rhythm, and the psychological flair of the biographer, 
alone decide which details he is to omit, which to touch upon, and 
which to paint in with a broad brush. Geographer and historian 
are in the same relation as map and portrait. It is quite definitely 
one geometrical vision, common to all and, in addition, mechan¬ 
ically adjustable, which tells us which furrows to include in a 
geographical map; but it is our artistic vision, varying in the 
degree of its fineness and acuteness from man to man and incapa¬ 
ble of exact check, which tells us which wrinkles to put into a bio¬ 
graphical portrait. 


The geographical map would not even correspond to the his¬ 
torical table that simply notes down the facts in chronological 
order. For, in the first place, it is evident that such a table cannot 
fairly be called a small-scale repetition of the original with the 
same justification as a map can be so described. Secondly, an 
amorphous piling-up of dates would not have the character of a 
science at all. According to Becher’s definition, which may be con¬ 
sidered more or less unassailable, a science is “ an objectively ar¬ 
ranged ensemble of questions and of probable and proved judg¬ 
ments together with the relevant experiments and preliminary 
data which link them together.” None of these qualifications is ful¬ 
filled by a bare table, which contains neither questions nor judg¬ 
ments, neither experiments nor proofs. As well might we call 
an address-book, a school note-book, or a racing result a scientific 
product. 


6 



Thus we reach the conclusion that as soon as reference-history 
attempts to be a science it ceases to be objective, and as soon as it 
attempts to be obj ective it ceases to be a science. 

As regards the pragmatic method of writing history, it is 
hardly necessary to prove that this is the exact opposite of scien¬ 
tific objectivity. From its very essence it is tendencious, even 
deliberately and consciously so. It is, therefore, about as remote 
from pure science, which seeks merely to establish, as didactic 
poetry is removed from pure art, which seeks merely to represent. 
It regards the world’s occurrences in the aggregate as a collec¬ 
tion of vouchers and examples for certain doctrines which it de¬ 
sires to corroborate and to spread; it has definitely and em¬ 
phatically the textbook quality; it is bent on demonstrating 
something all the time. But although it thus stands condemned 
as a science, it does not thereby lose its right to exist, any more 
than didactic poetry does so because it is not pure art. The high¬ 
est literary product known to us, the Bible, belongs to didactic 
poetry; and some of the most powerful writers of history — Taci¬ 
tus, Machiavelli, Bossuet, Schiller, Carlyle — have been prag¬ 
matic in tendency. 

As a reaction against pragmatism there has recently been a 
vogue for the genetic method. This aims at tracing the organic 
development of events with strict impartiality, purely in the light 
of historical causality — as, say, a geologist studies the history 
of the earth’s crust or a botanist the history of plants. But it was 
a mistake to suppose that this could be done. First, because once 
the conception of evolution had been admitted, the new system 
entered the province of reflection, and became at the worst an 
empty and arbitrary construction of history, at the best a pro¬ 
found and imaginative historical philosophy; but in no case a 
science. For, in fact, to treat it as comparable with natural sciences 
is completely misleading. The earth’s history lies before us in un¬ 
ambiguous documents: anyone who can read these documents can 
write that history. The historian has no such simple, plain, reliable 
documents available. Man has in all ages been an extremely com¬ 
plex, polychrome, contradictory creature who refuses to yield up 
his ultimate secret. The whole of subhuman nature has a very uni¬ 
form character; but humanity consists of nothing but non¬ 
recurring individuals. A lily seed will always produce a lily, and 

7 


School 

boot 

hist or 
* 


Unscufntij 
c/iaract 
of the bat 
concepts 
hist or 
<writh 



the history of this seed can be determined in advance with almost 
mathematical precision; but a human embryo always produces 
something that has never before existed and will never be repeated. 
The history of nature perpetually repeats itself, working with a 
few refrains which it is never tired of repeating; the history of hu¬ 
manity never repeats itself, for it has at its disposal an inex¬ 
haustible store of ideas from which new melodies constantly de¬ 
tach themselves. 

In the second place, if the genetic method sets out to prove 
cause and effect with the same scientific accuracy as nature re¬ 
search, it is equally doomed to failure. Historical causality is sim¬ 
ply incapable of being unravelled. It is made up of so many ele¬ 
ments that for us the character of causality is completely lost. 
Then, again, physical movements and their laws can be established 
by direct observation, while historical movements and their laws 
ran only be recalled in imagination; in the one case movements 
can be re-examined at will, in the other they must be re-created. 
In short, the only way of penetrating into historic causality is 
the artist’s way, that of creative experience. 

Thirdly and lastly, the demand for impartiality proves to be 
impossible of fulfilment. Historical research, in contrast, to nature- 
research, appraises its objects. This in itself should not. prevent 
it from being scientific in character; for its scale of values might 
well be of an objective order, if, for example, it were based on some 
quantitative theory like mathematics or on some energetic theory 
like physics. But in fact—and here the sharp dividing line ap¬ 
pears — there is in history no absolutely valid standard by which 
quantity and force may be measured. I know, for example, that 
the number 17 is bigger than the number 3, or that a circle is 
greater than a segment of the same radius; but I am not able 
to deliver judgment upon historical persons and events with the 
same certainty and documented assurance. If I say: Coesar was 
greater than Brutus or Pompey, my statement cannot be proved 
any more than the contrary—which, in fact, absurd as it seems 
to us, was the opinion held for centuries. We think it perfectly 
natural to call Shakspere the greatest dramatist who ever lived, 
yet this verdict only became general about the turn of the eight¬ 
eenth century — the time when most people considered Vulpius, 
the author of Rinaldo Rinaldini, to be a greater poet than his 

8 



brother-in-law Goethe. Raphael Mengs, in the judgment of pos¬ 
terity an insipid and idealless eclectic, ranked in his day as one of 
the world’s greatest painters, and El Greco, whom we worship to¬ 
day as the most grandiose genius of the Baroque, was even half a 
century ago so little appreciated that his name did not appear in 
the old edition of Meyer's Konversations-Lexikon . Charles the 
Bold imposed himself on his century as the most brilliant of he¬ 
roes and rulers, whereas we see him as nothing but a knightly 
freak. In the same century lived Joan of Arc; yet Chastellain 
(most conscientious and witty chronicler of his age) included in 
his Mystere, written on the death of Charles VII, all the army 
commanders who fought against the King of England without 
ever mentioning the Maid of Orleans. To us, on the other hand, 
her memory is practically all that remains of that time. Greatness 
is in fact, as Jakob Burckhardt says, a mystery: “The attribute 
is bestowed or withheld far more through some vague instinct 
than upon a considered judgment based on evidences.” 

Recognizing this difficulty, historians have looked about them 
for another standard of values, saying: let us call everything his¬ 
torical which is effective; let a person or an event be rated highly 
or otherwise according to the range and permanence of the in¬ 
fluence. But here again it is the same as with the conception of 
historical greatness. In dealing with gravitation or electricity we 
can say exactly in each individual case whether, where, and to 
what extent it is effective; but in dealing with the forces and 
figures of history, this is not so, in the first place because the 
angle from which we are supposed to take its measurement is not 
unambiguously defined. For the economist the introduction of 
Alexandrines will play a very inferior role, and the invention of 
the ophthalmoscope will leave the theologian cold. All the same 
it is just conceivable that a genuinely universal researcher and 
observer might do justice equally to all the forces which have left 
their mark in history, although his undertaking would meet with 
almost insurmountable obstacles. A far greater difficulty is pre¬ 
sented by the fact that much of the working of history takes place 
underground, and only becomes visible after a great lapse of time, 
if then. We do not know the real forces which mysteriously propel 
our development; we can only sense a deep-lying connexion, never 
obtain a continuous record of it. Suetonius writes in his biography 


Subtt 

rant 

course 

historic 

acti 


9 



Ranke*s 

error 


of the Emperor Claudius: “At that time the Jews, incited by a 
certain Chrestus, stirred up strife and discontent in Rome and 
had, therefore, to be expelled.” It is true that Suetonius was no 
such shining light in history as, for instance, Thucydides; he was 
merely an excellent compiler and writer-up of the world’s Small¬ 
talk, a mediocrity with taste and diligence; but on that, very ac¬ 
count his remark shows us fairly accurately the estimation in 
which Christianity was officially held by the average educated 
man of the day. It was regarded as an obscure Jewish nuisance. 
And yet Christianity was even then a world-power. It had long 
been felt at work and its effects were increasing day by day, but 
they were not tangible or visible. 

Many research-historians have, therefore, set. their standard 
still lower, demanding no more of a historian than that he should 
reflect in a purely objective manner the knowledge of events 
available at any particular time, making use (inevitably) of 
normal historical standards of value, but refraining from all per¬ 
sonal judgments. But even this modest demand cannot be satis¬ 
fied. For unfortunately man proves to be an incurably critical 
creature. Not only is he obliged to use certain “ general ” stand¬ 
ards, which, like inferior yard-sticks, expand or contract with 
each change of the public temperature, but he feels within him 
the impulse to interpret or embellish or abuse everything that 
comes within his range of vision — in short, to falsify and distort 
it, justifying himself all the time by the fact of being driven by 
irresistible forces — for indeed it is only by such purely personal 
and one-sided judgments that he can feel his way in the moral 
world that is the world of history. Nothing but his purely sub¬ 
jective standpoint enables him to stand firmly in the present and 
from there to send his glance, at once comprehensive and ana¬ 
lytical, into the infinity of past and future. To this day no single 
historical work has achieved objectivity in the sense postulated. 
Should any mortal prove capable of such a triumph of impartial¬ 
ity, it would be extremely difficult to establish the fact; for that 
would entail finding a second mortal equal to the exertion of read¬ 
ing anything so dull. 

Ranke’s avowed intention to tell the story “ as it really hap¬ 
pened ” sounded modest enough, but was really a very bold un¬ 
dertaking—in which, in fact, he failed. His importance as a 


io 



historian he owed entirely to being a great thinker. He did not 
discover new “ facts,” but only new associations which his own 
creative genius impelled him to project, construe, and mould by 
the aid of an inner vision that no knowledge of sources, however 
vast, and no critical attitude towards them, however keen and in¬ 
corruptible, could have given him. 

For however numerous the new sources one opens up, there is 
never a living one among them. Once a man dies he is removed 
once and for all from the view of our senses. All that is left is the 
lifeless impression of his general outline, and the process of in¬ 
crustation, fossilization, and petrifaction immediately sets in, 
even in the consciousness of those who actually lived with him. 
He becomes stone, becomes legend. Bismarck already is a legend, 
and even Ibsen is on the way to becoming one. In due time we 
shall all be legends. Certain features stand out with undue promi¬ 
nence because, for some often quite arbitrary reason, they have 
impressed themselves on our memory. Sections and pieces alone 
remain. The whole has ceased to exist, has sunk irrevocably into 
the darkness of the has-been. The past draws not so much a cur¬ 
tain as a veil over things that have happened, making them misty 
and unclear, but at the same time mysterious and suggestive: so 
that all that is passed is wrapped for us in the shimmer and fra¬ 
grance of a magical happening. And this it is which constitutes 
the main charm of all our dealings with history. 

Every age has its own peculiar picture of the various pasts that 
are accessible to its consciousness. Legend is not merely one of 
the forms, but the only form in which we are able to think or 
imagine history, or live it over again. All history is saga, myth, 
and as such is the product of the particular state of our spiritual 
potentials, or imaginative power, or formative power, and our 
view of the world. Take for instance the imagination-complex 
“ Greek antiquity.” It existed at first as the present, as the condi¬ 
tion of those who lived and suffered in it. At that time it was an 
extremely turbid, suspect, unguaranteed, precarious something 
that one had to guard against, although it was so hard to grasp, 
and at bottom not worth the infinite pains one took over it; yet 
it was indispensable — for it was life. But even for the men of 
Imperial Rome the earlier Greece stood for something incompa¬ 
rably high, bright and strong, full of import and securely poised, 

ii 


All history 
is legend. 



an unattainable paradigm of blessed purity, simplicity, a 
thoroughness; a desideratum of the highest kind. 'Then, in t 
Middle Ages, it became a dull, grey, leaden past; a dismal pat 
from which God’s eye was averted, a sort of earthly hell full 
greed and sin, a gloomy theatre for human passions. In the ej 
of the German Enlightment, again, Classical Greece was a ki 
of natural museum, a practical course of art-history and arch 
ology, the temples museums of antiques, the market-places g; 
leries of sculpture. Athens itself was a permanent open-air < 
hibition; all Greeks were either sculptors or sculptors’ walki 
models, all noble and graceful in their pose, all with wise a 
resounding speeches on their lips; the philosophers were pi 
fessors of aesthetics, their women heroic figures of public founts 
statuary, the people’s assemblies living pictures. For this socic 
with its boring perfections, the fin de si?clr substituted the prc 
lematical or indeed hysterical type of Greek who was not in 1 
least a well-balanced, peaceful, and harmonious creat lire, but. 
the contrary a highly coloured, opaline mixture, tortured by 
profound and hopeless pessimism and dogged by a pathologic 
lack of restraint which betrayed his Asiatic origin. Between t he 
two utterly different conceptions there were numerous tran 
tions, sub-classes, and fine shades, and it will be one of our tas 


in the present work to examine somewhat more closely this intc 
esting play of colour in the conception of the “ Classical.” 

Every age, practically every generation, has naturally a d 
ferent ideal, and with the change of ideal comes a change in t. 
glance that is sent to explore the great individual sections of t 
past. It will be, according to circumstances, a transfiguring, gil 

ing, hypostasizing glance, or one that poisons and blackens, ; 
evil eye. 


The intellectual history of mankind consists in a continuo 
reinterpretation of the past. Men like Cicero or Wallenstein can 
evidenced from a thousand original sources and have left dcfinii 
powerful traces of their influence on innumerable items of fac 
yet no one knows to this day whether Cicero was a shallow o 
portunist or an important character, Wallenstein a low traitor 
a brilliant exponent of Realpolitik. None of the men who ha’ 
made world-history have escaped being called adventurers, cha 
latans, and even criminals from time to time —for instanc 


12 



Mohammed, Luther, Cromwell; Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Fred¬ 
erick the Great, and a hundred others. There is only a single one 
of whom no one has dared to say these things, and on that very 
account we see in him not a man, but the Son of God. 

The best in a man, says Goethe, has no form. And if it be 
almost impossible to gain access to the ultimate secret essence of 
a single individual and discover “ the law whereby . . .” how 
vastly more absurd still is it to make the attempt in the case of 
mass movements, the deeds of the collective human soul in which 
the lines of force of numerous individualities cross each other. 
Even biology, which, after all, deals with clearly defined types, is 
no longer an exact natural science, but feeds on a variety of 
hypotheses that are subject to the philosophy of the moment. 
Where life begins, science ends; where science begins, life ends. 

The historian’s position would, therefore, be entirely hopeless 
did not a way out suggest itself in a further saying of Goethe’s: 
“ The material can be seen by all, the meaning only by him who 
has something to put to it.” Or — to replace two of Goethe’s 
apergus by two of Goethe’s figures — the historian who builds up 
history “ scientifically ” simply from the material is the Wagner, 
who in his retort brings forth the bloodless Homunculus, incapa¬ 
ble of life; while the historian who forms history by adding some¬ 
thing of his own is Faust himself, who by his marriage with 
Helena, the Spirit of the Past, produces the healthy Euphorion. 
True, he is as short-lived as Homunculus, but it is for the op¬ 
posite reason — he has too much life in him. 

“ The attempt to treat history scientifically,” says Spengler, 
“ always at bottom involves contradictions. . . . It is Nature that 
is to be treated scientifically. History is the business of a poet. All 
other solutions are impure.” The difference between historian and 
poet is in fact only one of degree. The frontier at which imagina¬ 
tion has to call a halt is, for the historian, the state of historical 
knowledge in expert circles; for the poet, the state of historical 
knowledge among the public. Neither is poetry entirely free in 
forming historical figures and events: there is a line which it may 
not cross with impunity. A drama, for instance, which represented 
Alexander the Great as a coward, his teacher Aristotle as an 
ignoramus, and allowed the Persians to defeat the Macedonians 
in battle, would lose its aesthetic effect by so doing. There is 


Homm 

lus 

Eufho'i 


13 



c< Historical 
novels ” 


always indeed a very intimate connexion between the great dra¬ 
matic poets and the ruling historical sources of their day. Shak- 
spere dramatized the Cscsar of Plutarch; Shaw the Ciesar of 
Mommsen; Shakspere’s king-dramas reflect the historical knowl¬ 
edge of the English public in the sixteenth century with precisely 
the same accuracy as Strindberg’s stories the historical knowledge 
of the Swedish reader in the nineteenth. Today Goethe’s Gofz von 
Berlichingen and Hauptmann’s Florian Geyer appear to us fan¬ 
tastic as pictures of the Reformation; but when they were new 
they were not regarded as such, for both of them were rooted in 
the scientific research and opinion of their time. In short, the his¬ 
torian is nothing but a poet who has adopted the strictest natural¬ 
ism as his unwavering principle. 

Professional historians are apt to dismiss contemptuously as 
“ novels ” all historical works which are not merely impersonal, 
laborious collections of material. Hut after one to two generations 


at most their own works turn out to be novels, the sole difference 
being that theirs are empty, boring, uninspired, and liable to be 
killed by a single “ find ”; whereas a truly worthy history-novel 
can never become a “ back number ” as regards its deeper signifi¬ 
cance. Herodotus is not a back number, although he recorded for 
the most part things which every elementary schoolmaster can 
refute; Montesquieu is not a back number, although his writings 
are full of palpable errors; Herder is not a back number, although 
he put forward historical opinions which today are considered 
amateurish; Winckelmann is not a back number, although his 
interpretation of Classical Greece was one great misconception: 
Burckhardt is not a back number, although Wilamowitz-Mollen- 
dorff, the present-day pope of Classical philology, has said tha - 
his cultural history of Greece “ so far as science is concerned hai 
no existence.” The point is that even if everything which thesi 
men taught should prove erroneous, one truth would always re 
main and could never become antiquated: the truth as regard 
the artistic personality behind the work, the important persoi 
who experienced these wrong impressions, reflected, and gav 
form to them. When Schiller writes ten pages of vivid Germai 
prose on an episode in the Thirty Years’ War which bears n 
resemblance to what really happened, he does more for historic* 
knowledge than a hundred pages of “ reflections based on tb 


14 



latest documents,” written without a philosophical outlook and 
in barbarous German. When Carlyle works up the story of the 
French Revolution into the drama of a whole people, forced on¬ 
ward by powerful forces and counter-forces to fulfil its bloody 
destiny, he may be said to have written a novel — even a “ thriller ” 
— but the mysterious atmosphere of infinite significance in which 
this poetical work is bathed acts as a magic insulating sheath to 
preserve it intact from age to age. Then, again, is not Dante’s un¬ 
real vision of Hell the most competent historical picture of the 
Middle Ages which we possess to this day? Homer, too, what was 
he but a historian “ with insufficient knowledge of sources ” ? All 
the same, he is and always will be right, even though one day it 
should transpire that no Troy ever existed. 

All our utterances about the past refer equally to ourselves. We 
can never speak of and never know anything except ourselves. 
But by sinking ourselves in the past we discover new possibilities 
of our own ego, enlarge the frontiers of our consciousness, and 
undergo new if wholly subjective experiences. Therein lies the 
value and the aim of all historical study. 

To put all this in a sentence: What this book attempts to tell 
is no more and no less than today’s legend of modern history. 

We often find in the preface to a learned work some such re¬ 
mark as this: “ Completeness, as far as possible, has naturally 
been my aim throughout; it is for my respected colleagues to de¬ 
cide whether I have left any gaps.” Now my own standpoint is 
the exact opposite. Quite apart from the fact that I should not 
dream of letting my respected colleagues decide anything what¬ 
ever, I am inclined to say that incompleteness, as far as possible, 
has been my aim throughout. It will perhaps be said that I need 
not trouble myself, that the incompleteness would be there with¬ 
out any effort of mine. But, even so, a definite will towards frag¬ 
ment and section, nude and torso, scraps and odd pieces, lends a 
certain character to any production. We can never see the world 
other than incompletely; deliberately to see it incomplete is to 
create an artistic aspect. Art is the subjective, preferential treat¬ 
ment of certain elements of reality; it selects and resets, dis¬ 
tributes light and shade, omits and underlines, softens and 
emphasizes. My consistent attempt is to render only a single seg¬ 
ment or arc, profile or bust, a modest veduta of certain very big 

*5 


In com f l 
ness as 
as foss 



Ji.Vtftftfrm- 

(ion 


ensembles and developments. Pars prn tnfn; this figure is by n 
means the least effective and clear. A single movement of tfc 
hand will often characterize for us a whole person, a simile dota 
a whole event, more acutely, impressively, and essentially tha 
the most, elaborate description. In short, the n'nrriloir in all it 
implications appears to me as the only art-form one may just; 
liably use in writing cultural history. The “father of historv 
knew that. Kmerson places him among those who “cannot b 
spared “ Herodotus, whose history contains innumerable a not 
dotes, which brought it with the learned into a sort of disesteem 
but in those days • -when it is found that what is most menmrahl 
in history is a. few anecdotes, and that we need not be alanne 
though we should find it not dull- it is regaining credit. 
Nietzsche appears to have held the same view: “ Three anecdote; 
and you have the picture of a man." Montaume, too, tells us tha 
proofs obtained from anecdotes were, provided they did not o.uw 
the bounds of possibility, as welcome to him in his organized in 
vesti,yations into the customs and natural passions of his felhn 
men as proofs taken from the world of reality. Whether an inciden 
really happened or did not happen, in Rome or in Paris, to Toni 
Dick, or Harry, he found that the story always contained som 
feature of human history front which he could take warnin.it o 
instruction. ,1 le noted down such and used them, piekin.it out fron 
the varying interpretations that an anecdote might bear the on. 
which seemed to him most unusual and striking. 

This brings us to a second peculiaritv of all successful historv 
exaggeration. Macaulay was of opinion that the best portrait, 
were possibly those which had a touch of caricature, and the bes 
historical works those which contained a discreet admixture o 
literary exaggeration. The slight loss in accuracy was, he con¬ 
sidered, compensated by the increase in effect; and althougl 
the weaker lines might be obliterated, the characteristic feature; 
stood out the more boldly and left an ineffaceable impression 
Exaggeration is the implement of every artist, and, therefore, o: 
the historian. History is a great convex' mirror in which the fea¬ 
tures of the past stand out all the more expressively and distinctly 
for being enlarged and distorted. Our aim is to produce, not: t 
statistical, but an anecdotal version of the new age; not an official 
record of the modern society of nations, but their family chronick 

16 



or —■ why not ? — their chronique scandaleuse. If, then, cultural 
history is inevitably fragmentary and even one-sided in its con¬ 
tent, its intention as regards scope should be the very reverse. 

For its domain of research and delineation includes or should in¬ 
clude literally everything — any and every manifestation of hu¬ 
manity’s life. Let us make a short survey of these various aspects, 
and at the same time try to fix a sort of scale of values. Needless 
to say, this is the first and last time that this pigeon-hole method 
will be used, for it has at best only a theoretical and at no time 
any practical value, since it is of the very essence of a Culture that 
it should form a unity. 

The lowest grade in the hierarchy of human activities is oc- Economi 
cupied by economic life, under which is included everything con¬ 
cerned with the satisfaction of material needs. It is, so to say, the 
raw material of a Culture, nothing more; though as such natu¬ 
rally of great importance. There is, it is true, a well-known theory 
according to which the “ entire social, political, and spiritual life- 
process ” is determined by “ material conditions of production,” 
and the battles of the nations are only seemingly fought on ques¬ 
tions of constitutional rights or world-outlook or religion — the 
ideological secondary motives, we are told, that cloak the actual 
primary motives of economic contrasts. But this extreme ma¬ 
terialism is itself much more of an ideology than any idealist sys¬ 
tems ever invented. Economic life, far from being an adequate 
expression of any given Culture, does not, strictly speaking, be¬ 
long to the Culture at all, but only contributes one of its prelimi¬ 
nary conditions, and not even the most vital one at that. It has 
little definite influence on the deepest and strongest cultural 
forms: religion, art, and philosophy. The Homeric poetry is the 
product of Greek polytheism, Euripides a slice of the Greek 
Enlightenment, Gothic architecture a complete expression of 
mediaeval theology, Bach the quintessence of German Protes¬ 
tantism, Ibsen a compendium of all the ethical and social 
problems of the closing nineteenth century; but is there any 
remotely comparable manifestation of the Greek economic life in 
Homer and Euripides, of the mediaeval in Gothic architecture, of 
the modern in Bach and Ibsen? It may be— and often has been 
— said that Shakspere is unthinkable without the rise of Eng¬ 
land’s commercial power, but does this mean that we should be 

17 



S ociety 


State 


justified in saying that P'nglish commerce was a ferment to his 
drama, a component of his poetic atmosphere? Or could, say, 
Nietzsche rightly be called a translation of the blossoming of 
Germany’s rising industrial power into philosophy and poetry? 
He stands in no relation to it, not. tlit* smallest, not even that of 
antagonism. As for the theory that religions “only relied the 
particular social state brought about' by the productive conditions 
of the time,” it would be ludicrous were it not so vulgar. 

Above economic life rises socirty , which is closely connected 
but not identical with it. That, the two are identical is indeed a 
view pften put forward. Even so acute and wide-seeing a thinlcei 
as Lorenz von Stein inclines to it. The question is not so simple 
as that, though. The separate orders of society did undoubtedlj 
originate in the distribution of estates: thus feudalism was basee 
essentially on its estates, the reign of the bourgeoisie on capital 
and the power of the clergy on Church lands. But in the coursi 
of historical development property-relations shift while the socia 
structure to a certain extent, remains linn. '1'his is borne out lv 
the appearance of every description of aristocracy. Aristocrat" 
of birth had long ceased to be economically the strongest das 
when it was still socially the most powerful. There is even toila 
a kind of money-aristocracy, represented by the holders of heredi 
tary fortunes that have been handed down for generations, an 
these representatives take far higher rank in society than the nt*< 
rich, who are usually far more opulent. There are, further, a 
official, a military, and an intellectual aristocracy: all of thn 
social strata which have never wielded any special econom: 
power. Neither does the privileged position of the clergy rest tipo 
economic causes. 

Even less than society does the Stott? admit of identificatic 
with economics. Often as it has been asserted that, the State 
nothing but the constitutional, legal, and administrative settl 
ment of existing economic conditions, it, should be rememben 
that every state, even the most imperfect, is founded on some hij 
ideal which it seeks more or less honestly to carry out. If it we 
not so, the phenomenon of patriotism would be inexplicable, 
it comes to expression the fact that the State is no mere organist 
tion, but an organism, a higher living being with its own claims 
existence and laws of development, which for all their occasiot 

iS 



absurdity are entirely genuine. It has a special will of its own 
which is something more than the simple mechanical summation 
of all the individual wills. It is a mystery, a monstrosity, a divin¬ 
ity, a beast, according to taste; but its existence is beyond the 
possibility of denial. That is why the emotions with which men 
regard this higher being have always been marked by exaggera¬ 
tion, emotiveness, and monomania. The fatherland in all its 
changing forms has always had something sacrosanct for the 
citizen — and not only in the Classical age, when, as we know, 
state and religion coincided, or in the Middle Ages, when the 
State was subordinated to the Church but by that very fact be¬ 
came invested with religious sanctity — but also in modern times. 
In the result, political history has been judged very one-sidedly 
and over-estimated. Even in the eighteenth century, world-history 
was still nothing but the history of “ its potentates,” and only a 
generation ago Treitschke wrote: “ What we have to record is a 
nation’s deeds; history’s heroes are statesmen and generals.” Un¬ 
til quite recently history stood for a dull, barren registering of 
troop movements and diplomatic shufflings, successive rulerships 
and parliamentary negotiations, sieges, and peace treaties. Even 
the most enlightened historians have spent themselves in research 
over these most uninteresting portions of human destinies, re¬ 
corded them, and made them into problems. Yet they really play 
no part or at most a very subordinate one, being merely a uniform 
repetition of the fact that man is half a beast of prey, savage and 
greedy and cunning, and the same all the world over. 

Even if the view of history were to be limited to the life of the 
State, the political historian’s treatment would be too narrow. He 
normally concerns himself solely with military and administra¬ 
tive history, whereas he should at the very least include as well 
the development of the Church and the Law, two fields hitherto 
abandoned to specialists. Added to these should be the extremely 
important circle of life-expressions which we are accustomed to 
sum up as manners and customs. It is here precisely — in their 
food and clothing, balls and funerals, letters and couplets, flirta¬ 
tions and domesticity, sociability and gardening — that men of 
every age reveal themselves in their real desires and antipathies, 
their strength and weakness, prejudice and knowledge, health 
and sickness, nobility and absurdity. 



Science , 
art, f/ii- 
losofhy, 
religion 


Turning to the domain of intellectual and spiritual life, Wl 
shall find that science takes the lowest place. 'Ib it, belong al 
forms of discovery and invention together with technology, whic] 
is no more than science applied to practical ends. Kvery age set 
up, so to say, its own inventory of the sciences, a balance-sheet o 
all the results gained by reflection and experience. Next abov< 
the sciences comes the domain of art. If one wished to arrange t.h< 


arts according to degree (little as there is to gain by so doing) 
one might place them according to the degree of their dependence 
on material. The following order would then ensue: archi¬ 
tecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, music. .But this is rathei 
a pedantic trifling. All one can say with reasonable justifi¬ 
cation is that music does actually take highest rank among the 
arts — as being the most profound and comprehensive*, the most 
independent and the most moving — and that of all forms of 
poetry drama represents the highest cultural achievement, that 
of creating a new world, of fashioning a microcosm, t hat del aches 
itself, self-contained, from the poet and so presents itself to our 
living contemplation. 

Philosophy, in so far as it is real philosophy anti, t horefore, one 
of the creative activities, ranks equally with art. It is, as Hovel 
long ago pointed out, the self-consciousness of each part ieular age, 
and it is therefore poles apart from a science, which is merely a 
consciousness of the details that the outer world offers us rhap- 
sodically and without higher sensible or logical unity. That is 
why Schopenhauer, too, said that the main branch of history was 
the history of philosophy: “This is really the ground bass, whose 
notes sound through into the other history, and there, too, by vir¬ 
tue of being its fundamental, leads the opinion that dominates the 
world. Philosophy, therefore, rightly understood, is in truth the 
most powerful material force, though it takes effect very slowly.” 
And in fact the history of philosophy is the heart of cultural his¬ 
tory, or even — if we accept Schopenhauer’s conception in all its 
implications the whole of cultural history. For what, are tone- 
sequences and orders of battle, skirts and regulations, vases 

and metres, dogmas and the shapes of roofs, but the outpoured 
philosophy of an age? 

The successes of great conquerors and kings are nothing by 
comparison with the effect of a single great thought which 


20 


i 



springs into the world and spreads itself steadily and irresistibly 
with the force of an elemental event, a geological transformation. 
Nothing can stand up against it, or alter the fact that it has hap¬ 
pened. The thinker is a monstrous, mysterious fatality. He is 
revolution, the one real and effective revolution among a hundred 
that are inessential and false. The artist works faster and more 
vividly, but on that very account his work is not so durable; the 
thinker works slower, more quietly, but on that very account 
more permanently. Lessing’s philosophical polemics, for instance, 
with their nimble dialectics and intellectual sparkle, are modern 
books even today; but his dramas have already a thick layer of 
dust upon them. Racine’s and Moliere’s figures affect us like 
mechanical jointed dolls, paper flowers on wires, pink-painted 
sugar sticks; but the free, strong lucidity of a Descartes or the 
grand unobvious soul-anatomy of a Pascal retains all its fresh¬ 
ness. Even the works of the Greek tragedians have their coat of 
patina today, which, though it may enhance their artistic value, 
lessens their vital worth; on the other hand, the dialogues of Plato 
might have been written yesterday. 

The apex and crown of the human culture-pyramid is formed 
by religion. All else is but the massive under-structure supporting 
its throne, and having no other aim than to lead up to it. In re¬ 
ligion is the fulfilment of custom, art, and philosophy. “ Re¬ 
ligion,” writes Friedrich Theodor Vischer, “ is the capital of his¬ 
torical symptoms, the Nilometer of the mind.” 

And thus we arrive at the following as a broad presentation of 
human culture: 

Man 

' -- 

acting thinking creating 

,- - - A -S ^- A -N f --N 

in economy and society, in discovery and invention, in art, 

state and law, science and technology. philosophy, 

church and custom. religion. 


As an illustrative allegory — a lame one, like the rest, of 
course—of the significance of the different culture-fields we 
might take the human organism as our framework. The life of 
the State would then correspond to the skeleton , which forms the 
coarse, hard, firm scaffolding for the whole body; the economic 


21 



The Phi¬ 
losophers’ 
Stone 


The 

represen¬ 

tative 

man 


'?n 
art t 


life to the alimentary system; the social life to the nerve systr 
science to the flesh and occasionally to the superfluous tat; art 
the various sense-organs; philosophy to the brain; and rel.gio 
to the soul — by which the whole body is held together and pt 
in touch with the invisible higher forces of the universe whos 
existence, like the soul’s, is often disbelieved by stupid and short 

sighted people. . . , . . 

It will be seen, therefore, that historical science, rightly m 

terpreted, embraces the whole of human culture and its develop 
ment. It is a consistent probing for the divine in the world’s «>ursi 
and is, therefore, theology; it is research into the basic forces o 
the human soul and is, therefore, psychology; it is the most, illu¬ 
minating presentation of the forms of state and society and, there¬ 
fore, is politics; the most varied collection of all art-creat ions anc 
is, therefore, aesthetics; it is a sort of Philosophers’ Stone, a 
Pantheon of all the sciences. At the same time it. is the only 
form in which we of today have the means to philosophize, 
an inexhaustibly rich laboratory in which we can undertake 
the easiest and most profitable experiments cm the nature of 


man. 


Every age has a definite fund of impulses, fears, dreams, ideas, 
idiosyncrasies, passions, errors, and virtues. The history of each 
age is the history of the doings and sufferings of a certain human 
type which has never before existed so and will never again exist 
so. We might call it the “ representative man ” — that, is, t he man 
who never appears in experience, and yet presents himself as the 
diagram or morphological outline on which all real men are built 
up, the prime plant, as it were, on which they are all modelled; 
or, as in the animal world, the individual living specimens corre¬ 
sponding to the predatory, the rodent, and the ruminant, types 
without ever actually being pure embodiments of them. Every 
age has too its particular physiology, its characteristic metab¬ 
olism, blood-circulation, and pulse-frequency, its specific life- 
tempo, a general vitality peculiar to itself, and even individual 
senses of its own, an optic, acoustic, neural character which be¬ 
longs to it alone. 

The history of the different ways of seeing is the history of the 
world. In this connexion we may usefully adopt for our study of 
history Johannes Muller’s doctrine of the specific sense-energies, 


22 



according to which the quality of our emotions is determined not 
by the difference in external stimuli, but by the difference in our 
receiving apparatus. “ Reality ” is always and everywhere the 
same — namely: unknown. But it affects always different sense- 
nerves, retinae, brain-cells, and ear-drums. This picture of the 
world undergoes a change with almost every generation. The fact 
that even nature, the apparently unalterable, is constantly taking 
a new form tells us this. Now it is hostile, wild, and cruel, now 
inviting, intimate, and idyllic; now exuberant and swelling, now 
bare and ascetic; now picturesque and melting, now sharply con¬ 
toured and statuesquely stylized. It suggests, alternately, clear 
and logical purpose and unfathomable mystery; a mere decora¬ 
tive setting for human beings and a bottomless abyss into which 
they sink; an echo repeating all man’s emotions with an amplified 
intensity, and a dumb emptiness of which he is barely conscious. 
If there was a wizard who by his magic could reconstruct for us 
the retina-image of a forest landscape in the eye of an Athenian 
of the days of Pericles and then the retina-image of the same 
landscape in the eye of a crusader of the Middle Ages, the two pic¬ 
tures would be quite dissimilar; and if we then went ourselves to 
the spot and looked at the forest, we should recognize the one no 
more than the other in it. This tyranny of the Zeitgeist goes so far, 
indeed, that even a photographic camera, reputed the deadest of 
apparatus, which apparently registers with perfectly mechanical 
passivity, is affected by our subjectivity. Even the “objective” 
is not objective. For it is an inexplicable but undeniable fact that, 
just like a painter, a photographer photographs only himself. If 
he has the taste of an uneducated, suburban mind, his camera 
will produce nothing but coarse, vulgar figures; if he has a culti¬ 
vated mind and an artistic point of view, his pictures will have 
the superior look of delicate engravings. And that being so, our 
photographs, like our paintings, will appear to future ages, not 
as naturalistic reproductions of our outward appearance, but as 
monstrous caricatures. 

More than that: incredible as it may sound, the present writer 
has for some years possessed an Expressionist dog. I maintain that 
a creature so hopelessly askew, so drunken of build, as it were, 
so made up of sheer triangles, has never yet been seen. This may 
be considered an illusion, but let me illustrate it by a counter- 

23 


The Exfr 
sionist a 



Spiritual 

costume- 

hhtory 


example: could the pug, the typical dog of our forefathers’ days, 
ever have looked expressionistic? Certainly not. ihat is why it 
died out, no one knows why or how. Similarly the days of the 
fuchsia, the favourite plant of the same era, are numboud. I t has 
already retired into remote suburbs, where the novels ol Spicl- 
hagen and the pictures of Defregger are still to be found in ap¬ 
preciative homes. And how is it that a whole series of perfectly 
grotesque fish, bearing an uncanny resemblance to submuiiiu.s or 
divers, have only been discovered now, in the age of technology? 
Other examples suggest themselves by the hundred. It is not pre¬ 
sumptuous, therefore, to talk about world-history, for it is, in 
fact, the history of our world, or rather our worlds. 

The aim of this book is to sketch an intellectual ami moral 
picture-page, a spiritual costume-history of the last six centuries, 
showing at the same time the Platonic Idea of each age and the 
thought which inwardly inspired it and was its soul. This Thought 
of the Age is the organizing, the creative, the only truth in each 
age, although in actuality it is seldom seen in the pure state; for 
what happens is that the prism of the age breaks it up into a many- 
coloured rainbow of symbols. Only now and then is the age so 
fortunate as to produce the one great philosopher who reassembles 
the rays in the focus of his intellect. 

And this brings us to the real key of an age. We find it in those 
great men, those strange apparitions, that Carlyle called I leroes. 
They might equally well be called poets, if we did not one-sidedly 
regard a poet as a person who dabbled in pen and ink, but remem¬ 
bered that everything can be turned into poetry, given creative 
force and imagination; and that the great heroes and saints who 
have made poetry with their lives of deeds and sufferings stand 
actually higher than the poet of words. Carlyle was convinced 
that the form in which a great man appears is entirely immaterial. 
Let him be there, that is the main thing. “ I confess, I have no 
notion of a truly great man that could not be all sorts of men ” 
(“ The Hero as Poet ”). “. . . Given a great soul, open to the Di¬ 
vine Significance of Life, then there is given a man fit to speak of 
this, to sing of this, to fight and work for this, in a great, vic¬ 
torious, enduring manner; there is given a Hero, — the outward 
shape of whom will depend on the time and the environment he 
finds himself in” (“The Hero as Priest”). In history there are 




only two real wonders of the world: the Spirit of the Age, with its 
fabulous energies, and Genius, with its magical effect. The man of 
genius is the most complete absurdity, an absurdity because of 
his very normality. He is what all others should be: a perfect 
equation of aim and means, of task and accomplishment. He 
is so paradoxical as to do what no one else does: he fulfils his 
destiny. 

Now, Genius and the Age are in account with each other in a 
complicated way, not easy to decipher. 

An age which does not find its hero is a pathological case: its 
soul is underfed and suffers, so to say, from “ chronic dyspnoea.” 
But no sooner does it get its man, who gives utterance to all its 
needs, than fresh oxygen streams suddenly into its organism, the 
dyspnoea disappears, the circulation is regulated, and it is well 
again. Geniuses are the two or three men in every age who can 
speak. (The rest are dumb, or stammerers.) Without these we 
should know nothing of past ages, for we should merely have 
hieroglyphics which confused and disappointed us. We need a 
key to this cipher. Gerhart Hauptmann once compared the poet 
with an seolian harp, which vibrates to every lightest breeze. If we 
adopt this comparison we may say: at bottom every person is 
an instrument of this sort with sensitive strings, but in most 
cases the impact of events merely sets the strings aquiver; it is 
only from the poet that notes are produced for all to hear and 
understand. 

For a particular section of man’s spiritual history to be per¬ 
petuated in a lasting picture, it seems that one man only is neces¬ 
sary, but that one is indispensable. For the age of Enlightenment 
a Socrates sufficed in Greece, a Voltaire in France, a Lessing in 
Germany; for the English Renaissance, a Shakspere; and for our 
own time a Nietzsche. In such men the whole age is objective as 
itself, as in an illuminating cross-section that everyone can grasp. 
The genius is no other than the concentrated formula, the com¬ 
pressed compendium, the easily handled clue —■ brief, concise, in¬ 
telligible, and comprehensive — to the desires and achievements of 
all his contemporaries. He is the strong extract, the clear distilla¬ 
tion, the pungent essence which they yield; it is of them he is 
made. Take it away, and nothing of him would be left; he would 
dissolve into air. The great man is entirely the creature of his age; 


Genius is a 
'product of 
the age 


25 



is this the case. This is our first 


The age is 
a fro duct 
of the 
genius 


and the greater he is ? the more 
thesis on the nature of genius. 

But who, then, are these contemporaries? Who makes them 
contemporaries, attaches them to a particular limited section of 
history, endows them with a specific world-feeling, a definite life- 
atmosphere — in short, a style of their own? Who but “the 
poet”? It is he who moulds their vital form and cuts the block 
from which, whether they are conscious of it 01 not, tlu y ait all 
printed. He multiplies himself mysteriously and thousandfold. 
Others walk, stand, sit, think, hate, or love according to his direc¬ 
tives. He alters our standard expressions of courtesy and our 
feeling for nature; our hairdressing, our religiousness, our punc¬ 
tuation, our erotic; that which is most sacred and that which is 
most trivial. His whole age is infected by him. He penet rates irre¬ 
sistibly into our blood, splits our molecules, and tyrannically 
creates new connexions. We speak his language, use his idiom; 
and a casual phrase from his mouth becomes a unifying watch¬ 
word which men call to one another in the night. Streets and 
woods, churches and ballrooms are peopled suddenly, none' knows 
how, with innumerable miniature copies of Werther, Byron, Na¬ 
poleon, Oblomov, Hjalmar. The meadows change their hue, trees 
and clouds take on new shapes, men’s looks, gestures, and voices 
a new accent. Women become bluestockings after Moliere’s re¬ 
cipe, or the lowest of the low according to Strindberg’s vision; 
broad-hipped and full-bosomed because Rubens at his lonely easel 
so willed it, slender and anaemic because Rossetti and Burne- 
Jones carried this picture of them in their heads. It is not: by any 
means correct that the artist depicts reality; on the contrary, it 
is reality that runs after him. It may seem a paradox, as Oscar 
Wilde says, but it is none the less true that life imitates art far 


more than art imitates life. 

No one can resist these wizards. They give us wings and they 
cripple us, intoxicate us and sober us. All the remedies and toxins 
in the world are in their possession. Life springs up where they 
tread and everything becomes stronger and healthier, “ finds it¬ 
self. This, indeed, is their greatest good deed: that they enable 
men to find and know themselves from the moment they come 
into contact with them. But they also bring sickness and death. 
They unloose in many souls the latent foolishness that might 




otherwise have slept on for ever. Also they stir up wars, revolu¬ 
tions, social earthquakes. They behead kings, prepare battle¬ 
fields, sting nations to duels. A good-humoured elderly gentle¬ 
man named Socrates kills time with aphorisms; an equally 
good-humoured countryman of his named Plato makes a series 
of entertaining dialogues out of them; and libraries pile up and 
up, are burnt at the stake, are burnt as waste paper; new libraries 
are written and a hundred thousand heads and stomachs live on 
the name Plato. A high-flown journalist named Rousseau writes 
a couple of bizarre pamphlets, and for six years a highly gifted 
people tears itself to pieces. A stay-at-home scholar named Marx, 
indifferent to and ignored by society, writes a few fat volumes 
of unintelligible philosophy, and a gigantic empire alters its whole 
conditions of life from the base upward. 

In short, the age is absolutely and entirely the creation of its 
great man. The more this is so, the greater it is, and the more 
completely and ripely will it fulfil its destiny. This is our second, 
thesis on the nature of genius. 

But what, now, is this genius ? An exotic monstrosity, a para¬ 
dox made flesh, an arsenal of extravagances, whims and per¬ 
versities ; a fool like the rest, nay, more so because more of a man 
than they are; a pathological freak, profoundly alien to the whole 
dark, living swirl below him; a stranger, too, to himself, for there 
is no possible bridge between himself and his ambiance. The great 
man is the great solitary, and what constitutes his greatness is 
precisely this: that he is unique, a psychosis, a completely unre¬ 
lated and unrepeated singular. He has nothing to do with his time, 
and his time nothing to do with him. This is our third thesis on the 
nature of genius. 

It will be said, perhaps, that these three theses contradict each 
other. Yes, and if they did not do so, it would be something of a 
waste of time to write these volumes, which in essence are noth¬ 
ing but a description of individual ages and their heroes. And, on 
the other hand, for those who believe the erasing rather than 
the display of contradictions to be the mission of human thought, 
it will be equally a waste of time to read these volumes. 

Before closing this introduction we feel bound to glance at our 
predecessors with a view to establish what may be called the 
pedigree of our work. Not that there is any question of a history 

27 


Genius and 
age are in¬ 
commen¬ 
surable, 


Pedigri 



of cultural history, tempting and profitable as tins might be, but 
purely of a fleeting and aphoristic mention of certain peaks on 
which the search-lights placed at our entirely personal stand¬ 
point may for a moment play. Actually, the very first historical 
work known to us, Herodotus’ story of the battle between the 
Hellenes and the Barbarians, was, though without, quite knowing 
it, a sort of comparative cultural history. But even Thucydides, the 
younger contemporary of Herodotus, wrote strictly political his¬ 
tory and it was only Aristotle who again drew attention to the 
importance, even to students of politics, of examining manners, 
customs, and ways of living. But the Classical age, with its static 
outlook, could do no more than divine or suggest ; for it was never 
clear to the consciousness of the Greeks that Homeric man was 
essentially a differently constituted being from Periclean man, 
and that he in turn differed completely from Alexandrian man. 
Even less could the Middle Ages grasp the conception of historical 
evolution. For them everything from all eternity was in God’s 
hands, the world was but a timeless symbol, a mysterious theatre 
for the battle between the Saviour and Satan, the elect and 
the damned. Thus it appeared, on the threshold of the Middle 
Ages, to Augustine, the greatest genius of the Christian Church, 
and thus movingly he described it in his impressive work: De 
civitate Dei. 

Lessing The Renaissance thought it had rediscovered the Classical 

it Tid w 

Herder a 8 e > but in fact it only celebrated its own world-feeling in the 
Roman poets and heroes. It was the age of the revival of philology 
and rhetoric, of the science of art and natural philosophy, but not 
of cultural history, whose earliest outlines were not grasped until 
the age of “ Enlightenment.” This, strictly speaking, goes back 
to Lord Bacon, and he was in fact the first who demanded of 
history (and primarily literary history) that it should compre¬ 
hend and mirror individual ages as unities; “ for the sciences,” 
said he, live and wander like the nations.” His demand was, 
however, understood but by few at the time, and fulfilled by none. 
Leibniz, the representative philosopher of the Baroque, led the 
principle of evolution to victory in metaphysics and nature-study, 
but only in the eighteenth century was it fruitfully applied to 
history-study at first in the domain of religion and by Lessing. 

Why, he asks, in his Erziekung des Menschengeschlechts, 

28 



“ do we not choose in all positive religions simply the one and 
only line along which the human reason of every place can de¬ 
velop and continue to develop, rather than single out one for our 
derision or anger? Was nothing in the best of worlds deserving of 
this scorn of ours, this unsympathy, excepting religions only? Is 
it that God’s hand may be felt in everything, only not in our 
errors? ” Herder took the same view in his criticism of poetical 
creations — the view that every human perfection was an indi¬ 
vidual thing: “ Man forms nothing but what is prompted by 
period, climate, needs, and world-destiny. The growing tree, the 
upstriving man, must pass from one age to another in his life, 
obviously, therefore, progressing.” “ Even the conception of bliss 
changes with every condition, every latitude . . . each nation 
has its centre of bliss within itself as each ball has its centre of 
gravity.” Proceeding on these lines, Herder discovered genius in 
the Hebrew poetry of the East, the heathen poetry of the North, 
and the Christian poetry of the Middle Ages. His main interest 
was centred in folk-poetry: “Just as natural history describes 
herbs and animals, so do the people here describe themselves.” 
He insisted that a history of the Middle Ages should be not merely 
a pathology of the head — that is, of the emperor and certain 
estates of the Empire — but a physiology of the whole national 
body: of its way of life, education, manners, and speech; and that 
history should be not a “ history of kings, battles, wars, laws, and 
bad characters,” but “ a history of the whole of humanity and its 
conditions, religions, and modes of thought.” In the “ history of 
opinions ” he sees the key to a history of deeds. But Herder was 
not the man to carry out such programs: he was by nature too 
speculative, too emphatic, and too rocket-like. 

The first attempts really to write cultural history instead of 
philosophizing over it came from Voltaire and Winckelmann. 
Winckelmann set himself in his principal work (which is some¬ 
what earlier than Herder’s earliest writings) to expound “the 
origin, growth, change, and decline of Classical art together with 
the styles of the various nations, times, and artists.” He begins 
with the Orientals, arrives by way of the Etruscans at the Hel¬ 
lenes, discusses their separate art periods, and ends with the 
Romans, purposely concentrating on “ outward conditions ” 
throughout. The whole work is undeniably dogmatic in spirit: 


Winckel 
maim an> 
Voltair 


29 



Greek art-forms a canon by which all else is one-sidedly judged; 
but the writer’s subtle and acute estimate of the styles of indi¬ 
vidual peoples and ages, viewed as products of race and place, of 
their constitution and their literature, was, all the same, an 
entirely new departure. 

Twelve years before Winckelmann’s book there appeared 
Voltaire’s Le Siecle de Louis XIV, which opens with the words: 
“ It is not my intention merely to write the life of Louis XIV. I 
have a larger object in view. I shall attempt to show Lo posterity, 
not the deeds of a single man, but the nature of Man in what, so 
far, is his most enlightened age.” He treats of the entire cultural 
conditions: home and foreign policy, commerce and industry, ad¬ 
ministration and justice, the police and the military, confessional 
disputes and ecclesiastical affairs, science and the line arts, and 
public and private life, complete down to anecdotes. The form is 
still that of separate headings, which have no proper correlation, 
but there is extraordinarily rich and vivid material. Kven today 
the book has the charm of fascinating actuality, for this amazing 
writer not only had the supreme gift of making everything he 
touched crystal-clear and transparent, but could paint in bright 
colours and sparkle with wit. 

Hegel end On March 26, 1789 Schiller wrote to Korner: “ Church his- 
c°mte tQr ^ hi s t or y 0 f philosophy, of manners, and of commerce, 
ought really to be combined in one with political history: only 
then can we have universal history.” But no one in Germany 
thought in this wise at the time and Schiller’s own historical 
works, which are definitely political in outlook, have still the 
character of those emotional displays on canvas which are hung on 
the walls of public buildings for purposes of edification. 

More than any other work, Hegel’s Philosophy of History has 
enduringly influenced historical literature as a whole — unparal¬ 
leled as a piece of profound, considered, and synthesizing re¬ 
search into the nature, significance, and spirit of history (and, 
it may be added, easier to read than most of his books, as com¬ 
paratively little use is made in it of the obscure post-Kantian ter¬ 
minology). The terse, if arbitrary, manner in which all the world’s 
history, from China’s earliest times to the July Revolution, is rep¬ 
resented as a strictly ordered succession of ever-mounting steps in 
actualizing the “ consciousness of liberty,” and the plastic power 

30 



with which the dominating ideas of the various ages during their 
growth, culmination, and decline are worked out makes the work 
extraordinarily stimulating — and even what is called delightful 
— to read. Yet it is nothing but a skeleton, animated by a series 
of pertinent and original apergus. 

A similar evolutionary method of treating history, founded 
on a strictly anti-metaphysical basis, is seen in Comte’s Philoso- 
phie positive. There we have the doctrine of the three stages of 
humanity, of which the highest, or “ positive,” is distinguished by 
the definitive triumph of the scientific outlook over the theologi¬ 
cal, the industrial mode of life over the military, and the demo¬ 
cratic constitution over the despotic. 

Comte in turn influenced Buckle, whose History of Civiliza- Buckle 

tion in England excited great attention on its appearance. He 
writes: “ Instead of telling us those things which alone have any 
value, instead of giving us information respecting the progress of 
knowledge, and the way in which mankind has been affected by 
the diffusion of this knowledge, instead of these things, the major¬ 
ity of historians fill their works with the most trifling and miser¬ 
able details: personal anecdotes of kings and courts; interminable 
relations of what was said by one minister, and what was thought 
by another ... in the study of the history of Man, the important 
facts have been neglected, and the unimportant ones preserved.” 

According to him, the material development of nations is in¬ 
fluenced mainly by climate, food, and soil, because these three 
conditions govern the distribution of wealth; and the intellectual 
development is determined by natural phenomena, which either 
work upon the imagination by their force and grandeur or, in 
temperate zones, work upon the reason. Out of these factors there 
arise certain forms of religion, literature, and statesmanship, 
which foster either superstition or knowledge. Buckle, who died 
in his forty-first year, never got as far as his real theme. His 
volumes contain only a sort of prospectus or program-like intro¬ 
duction. The very lucid though by no means illuminating deduc¬ 
tions on which the author takes his stand are there set forth with 
that wearisome breadth which is a feature of so many English 
books. There is ceaseless repetition, and the sources and quota¬ 
tions almost crowd out the text. Buckle’s immense reading un¬ 
healthily inflated his work and deprived it of all power of free 

31 



movement. And not only his work, but he himself appears to have 
been crushed under it, for, if we may trust his tianslatoi, Arnold 
Ruge, he literally read himself to death. Judging by the author’s 
cast of mind, it is unlikely that the work would have t urned out to 
be a really universal cultural history — the title, indeed, does not 
claim this —but only a history of the English people’s intellec¬ 
tual development as manifested in the progress of scientific re¬ 
search, social welfare, education, business, and technology. 

Burckharit But almost simultaneously with Buckle’s book, there appeared 
the first volume of a genuine universal history — although far 
less fuss was made about it at the time — Burckhardt’s Kultur 
der Renaissance in Italien. In the introduction to his lectures on 
the cultural history of Greece he lays down with kindly irony the 
principles which he followed both in this and in later works: 
“ Why do we not read purely political history, leaving general con¬ 
ditions and forces to be dealt with collaterally in simple ap¬ 
pendices? Because — apart from the fact that Greek history has 
by degrees been admirably covered — practically all our time 
would go in a mere relation of events, not to speak of the critical 
examination of them that is expected these days, when wc like 
to fill an octavo volume with a single inquiry into the accuracy 
of particular external facts. . . . Our task, as we see it, is to give 
the history of Greek modes of thought and -points of view, and to 
seek to discover the vital forces, both constructive and destructive, 
which were active in Greek life. . . . Fortunately, not only does 
the conception of cultural history change, but also academic prac¬ 
tice (and not a few other things). . . . Cultural history deals 
with the inner life of mankind in the past, defining what this was, 
what it wanted and thought, what was its outlook, and what it 
was able to do. . . . It presents and emphasizes just those facts 
which enable us to make a real inward contact of minds, rouse a 
real sympathy, whether by affinity or contrast with ourselves. 
The rubbish is thrown aside. . . . We are ‘ unscientific ’ and have 
no method — or at least not the method of other people.” 

Jakob Burckhardt realized the dream of Schiller: he actually 
succeeded in livingly reproducing the great organic unity formed 
by the sum of a people’s vital activities. Never before had one 
man s brain had at once so fresh an eye for details, so entirely a 
poet s instinct for visualizing distant conditions, and with these 

32 



a broad, free glance for the most general linkages in what he saw. 
An insatiable psychological curiosity, restless and unsettling, di¬ 
rected by an unerring flair for all that was strange and curious, 
for things most alien and most rare, most vanished and most hid¬ 
den — this was the central quality of Burckhardt’s mind. And to 
this quality he added a truly Olympian impartiality of judgment, 
which could smilingly admit the justification of everything be¬ 
cause it understood everything. In this connexion it is of impor¬ 
tance to remember that he was a Swiss — and who, living in that 
small mountain crater, that miniature Europe where Germans, 
French, and Italians live in peace under one common democratic 
administration, could think otherwise than as a cosmopolitan and 
a neutral ? And yet, as a matter of fact, Burckhardt did but fol¬ 
low the best traditions of German history. Not only Ranke and 
his pupils, but the Classics too — Kant, Herder, Goethe, Hum¬ 
boldt, Schiller—had this ideal of a world-civic history ever be¬ 
fore their eyes. In Burckhardt’s Welthistorische Betrachtungen, 
a work of godlike serenity, vision and charm, we find these lines: 
“ The mind has to transmute its recollection of the various earth- 
stages it has lived through into a possession; that which was once 
joy and sorrow should now become knowledge.” These words 
might well be taken as the motto of his life-work. 

Radically different from Burckhardt, and yet related to him, 
is Hippolyte Taine. The fundamental creative passion in Burck¬ 
hardt was the Germanic love of contemplation; he wished to 
present nothing but the picture of the life of the past with all its 
chaotic exuberance and bewildering lack of system. In Taine there 
prevailed the Latin urgency to dissect, to translate what was seen 
in the soul into the bright logic of well-built-up architecture. 
Burckhardt was a descendant of the intellectual sciences: he read 
history with the eye of a philologist and textual critic; Taine 
guided himself by the natural sciences: he deciphered history ac¬ 
cording to the methods of zoologists and geologists. Common to 
both, however, was the magic art of revitalizing, the gift of paint¬ 
ing the atmosphere, ambiance, and entire spiritual landscape of a 
human being, a people, or an age. Burckhardt was content to em- 
• ploy a simple, although warm and well-graded, colour-scheme; 
Taine was equipped with all the technical devices of a refined 
impressionism. 


Taine 


33 



Taine was one of those great and rare scholars who are a ] 
gram. One is, therefore, confronted with the choice bet ween rej 
ing his methods and aims, his demands and conclusions a lin 
and accepting them wholesale. He was, to put it briefly, the firs 
practise historical research on the lines of natural science, and 
first to demonstrate that art and natural science are at baft 
the same. And, indeed, there is no difference of principle betw 
them. The artist’s view of the world and mankind is that wli 
seeks as far as possible to lose itself in its object, illuminatinj 
not from outside by some light foreign to it, but from witl 
deriving light from its own core. Observation of the first k 
projects its own light on to things and can, therefore, only toi 
their surface; all it does is to render its objects visible. That, of 
second kind projects light into things and makes objects ltuniuc 
in themselves. A similar through-lighting of people and things 
the aim of the nature-student in the same degree as the histori 
and of the historian in the same degree as the artist. 

For what does it mean to think historically? To see the inw< 
linkages of a thing, to understand a thing, and to expound it 
others out of its own spirit and meaning. The nature-historian 
a real historian, he inquires into the conditions. He also inquii 
into the achievements, but these to him are no more than the st 
of the conditions which he can calculate. He inquires into energ 
relations. He inquires into the aim. But the aim is to him or 
the piling-up and passing-on of energies. Should a new varie 
occur, he feels it his duty — and fulfils that duty — to describe 
with the utmost accuracy and completeness. Has the particul 
plant stony soil, marshy soil, or a water bed? Is it a hanging, 
climbing, or an upright plant? Is it an alkaline, silicious, or cs 
careous plant? How does it absorb light, generate heat ? 

But a historical phenomenon, too — whether we take an i: 
dividual fertile personality, a particular generation, or a who 
race is nothing but a new variety. In what climate, what a 
and stratum of soil does it live? What is its station, its local! 
like? What are the conditions governing its intake and handling * 
material ? What, morphologically, is its basic structure ? How do> 
it absorb light, generate heat? What is its purpose? What energi. 
does it release ? This, or something like it, was Taine’s attituc 
towards history. And these observations and inquiries, belittle 


34 



and challenged on all sides, he knew how to clothe in the marvel¬ 
lously rich brocade of a prose which shimmered with a thousand 
opaline tints, a prose unrivalled even in French literature. 

About a generation ago Lamprecht’s Deutsche Geschichte 
began to appear. It is in many respects a most meritorious work, 
particularly as regards its excellent lay-out. The author exhibits 
the course of cultural history as occurring within the framework 
of a definite and ever-reciprocating mechanism: “ Development of 
reactions against existing conditions, overthrow of the old domi¬ 
nants, a new naturalism, the setting-up of new dominants in an in¬ 
creasingly objective idealism, rationalization of these dominants, 
the after-cult of them, then new stimulating processes again, and 
so on.” More exactly, Lamprecht distinguishes five ages of cul¬ 
ture : the symbolic, the typical, the conventional, the individual, 
and the subj ective. These again he divides broadly into the period 
of receptivity and the period of irritability. In each of these ages 
one particular “ social-psychical collective disposition ” prevails, 
labelled by Lamprecht with the heavy loan-word “ diapason.” 
He has undeniably been very successful in demonstrating the 
workings of this “ diapason ” in all branches of culture, although 
to some extent hampered by his deliberately restricting himself 
to German history. This mode of treatment was quite admissible 
in dealing with the Middle Ages, when an international culture 
ruled; a description of cultural France in the twelfth century, for 
instance, is essentially a description of general European culture. 
But in modern times it is first one nation, then another, which 
leads: in the Renaissance, the Italians; in the Baroque, the Span¬ 
iards; in the eighteenth century, the French; in the ninetenth, 
the Germans and English alternately and again the French; and 
at the close of the century even the group of the little Scandinavian 
nations. 

It is nevertheless possible to exemplify the development of 
European culture as a whole, even from a single nation, particu¬ 
larly when, as with Lamprecht, ample provision is made for any 
important incursion of foreign influences. A more serious obj ec- 
tion is Lamprecht’s lack of creative power, both in classification 
and in description. His ground-plan was comprehensible enough, 
but in carrying it out he smudged the outline and failed to 
integrate his composition. He was too scrupulous as a scholar 

35 


Lam$r 



Brtysig 


to accept the necessity, implicit in his new outlook, of autocr: 
ically (and on occasion forcibly) lumping together or tear! 
apart his materials — a method which science would not. ha 
justified, but art should have enjoined on him. I.tvt.u in dcsciibii 
the individual culture-generations he produces no real synops 
in spite of the breadth and fertility of his ideas. Added t o that, h 
book is written in that awkward, unmusical jargon peculiar 


most German scholars, which moved Goethe to say that Clennai 
had the gift of making science inaccessible. Frequent lapses int 
the emotionalism of an antiquated Old Frankish text-book do nc 
make it pleasanter reading; for passion is the worst, — because t.l. 
most obvious — of all snares to writers of every description. ] 


can only be permitted to the greatest artists, such as Victor I lug 
and Wagner, Sonnenthal and Coquelin, Nietzsche and Carlyh 
Nevertheless, in spite of all these flaws, Lamprecht’s fourtee; 
volumes do in a way mark an epoch in the history of cult ura 
history. 

From Lamprecht we pass naturally to Kurt Ureysig, an ex 
cellent scholar, independent in his conception, of acute judgmen 
and wide outlook. He breaks completely with the traditional prin¬ 
ciple of guiding history into Classical, Mediaeval, Modern, ant 
finds that this succession applies not to the general course ol 
world-history, but to the great single cultural groups, in particu¬ 
lar the Greek, the Roman, and the Germano-Roman. 'l'lius an¬ 
cient Greece (1500-1000 b.c.) would correspond to the Germanic 
period (a.d. 400-900.) “ In both cases,” he writes, “ a people that 
is still barbaric is helped by borrowing in various ways from 
older, wealthier civilizations, oriental and Roman respectively; 
in both cases a strong monarchy has exercised a powerful influ¬ 
ence. . . . The ruins of the royal castles and tombs of Mycenae 
and Tiryns and those of the Carolingian palace at Aachen are im¬ 
bued with the same spirit.” Then followed the “ early Mediaeval 
period,” lasting with the Greeks from 1000 to 750 b.c., and with 
the Germans from a.d. 900 to 1150. Here in both cases we have 
the throne in conflict with a pushing aristocracy, which finally 
gains the upper hand; after which there arises a citizen adminis¬ 
tration controlled by money. Next come the stirrings of democ¬ 
racy, and lastly there is a revival of the monarchic idea . . . and 
with it, as its most important element, the socially unitary char- 




acter of the epoch, which in both cases is essentially ruled by the 
idea of solidarity, in spite of the parallel existence of a brusque, 
tumultuous individualism of strong personalities.” These extracts 
suffice to show how fruitful a comparative method may prove to 
be, if handled with judgment and a lively feeling for the concrete, 
and if care is taken not to overlook the differences in establishing 
the analogies. It must be admitted that Breysig’s “ cultural his¬ 
tory of modern times ” hardly fulfils the promise of its title so far. 
The first volume treats of “ problems and standards in the writ¬ 
ing of general history the second, with “ antiquity and Middle 
Age as steps leading to the modern,” the first half being devoted 
to prehistory and Greek and Roman history, the second to the 
rise of Christianity and the antiquity and early Middle Age of 
the Germano-Roman peoples. Breysig is far more exact and pene¬ 
trating in his analysis than Lamprecht and has also the advantage 
of a terse, vivid, well-rounded style. The tightly packed chapters 
on the art and world-outlook of the Greeks and Roman govern¬ 
ment and society are masterly, a fact which is obviously due to 
his not being a specialist in that sphere. In fact, the nearer he ap¬ 
proaches his own special domain, the more he loses his breath. 
Social history in particular looms overlarge in his survey of the 
early Middle Age of the Germano-Roman culture. Nearly five 
hundred pages are given up to territorial development, the growth 
of the classes, and political economy, and but eighty pages to re¬ 
ligion, science, literature, and the arts. When we consider the 
oppressive mass of detail there is in this single section — and that 
purporting to be only the prologue — it is impossible to imagine 
the formidable dimensions that the work will have assumed by 
the time it arrives at its real theme. Indeed, as he has published 
no volumes since 1902, 1 it almost looks as if the author himself had 
been daunted by his glimpse into these endless spaces. If this be 
so, it is much to be regretted. 

Lastly, and with deep admiration, we come to the name of 
Oswald Spengler, perhaps the most powerful and vivid thinker 
to appear on German soil since Nietzsche. One has to climb very 
high in the world’s literature to find works of such scintillating 
and exuberant intellect, such triumphant psychological vision, 
and such a personal and suggestive, rhythmic cadence as his 

1 A further instalment appeared in 1918. Tr. 

37 



Decline of the West. What Spengler gives us in his two volumes i 
the “ outlines of a morphology of history.” He sees, in place o 
the “ monotonous picture of a linear world-history ” the “ phe 
nomenon of a plurality of mighty Cultures.” “ Each Culture ha 
its own new possibilities of self-expression, which arise, ripen 
decay, and never return. There is not one sculpture, one painting 
one mathematic, one physics, but many, each in its deepest es¬ 
sence different from the others, each limited in duration and sel f- 
contained, just as each species of plant has its peculiar blossom oi 
fruit, its special type of growth and decline. These Cultures, sub¬ 
limated life-essences, grow with the same superb aimlessness as 


the flowers of the field.” Cultures are organisms, and cultural his¬ 
tory is their biography. Spengler establishes nine such Cultures, 
the Babylonian, the Egyptian, the Indian, the Chinese, the Classi¬ 
cal, the Arabian, the Mexican, the Western, and the Russian, and 
he throws light upon each in turn, naturally not an equally bright 
and full light in every case, as, of course, our information con¬ 
cerning them is very unequal. But in the evolutionary course of 
these Cultures certain parallelisms rule, and this leads Spengler 
to introduce the conception of “ contemporary ” phenomena, by 
which he understands historical facts that, “ each in its own Cul¬ 
ture, occur in the same — relative — positions and, therefore, 
have an exactly corresponding significance.” “ Contemporary,’’ 
for example, are the rise of the Ionic and that of the Baroque; 
Polygnotus and Rembrandt, Polycletus and Bach, Socrates and 
Voltaire are “ contemporaries.” But within the individual Cul¬ 
ture itself, too, there is naturally complete congruence of all its 
life-expressions at each of its stages of evolution. So, for instance, 
there is a deep connexion of form between the Differential Cal¬ 
culus and the dynastic state principle of Louis XIV, between the 
assical Pohs and the Euclidean geometry, between the space- 
perspective of the Western oil-painting and the conquest of space 
y rai ways, telephones,, and long-range weapons. By means of 

. ® se an . 1 e S ui< foig principles, now Spengler arrives at the most 
interesting and surprising discoveries. The “ Protestant brown ” 

° W 6 ? UtCh * nd the atileistic P lein air of the Manet school, the 
ay as prime symbol of the Egyptian Soul, and the “ Plain ” 
as the leitmotiv of the Russian world-outlook, the “ Magian ” 
Culture of the Arabs and the “Faustian ” Culture of the West, 




the “ second religiousness ” in which late Cultures revive the 
images of their youth, and the “ fellahdom ” in which man be¬ 
comes again historyless — these, and many more like them, are 
unforgettable glimpses of genius that light up for a moment vast 
tracts of night, incomparable discoveries and hits of an intellect 
that possesses a truly creative eye for analogies. That the Cim¬ 
merians of learning have opposed to such a work nothing but 
stolidity and a deaf incomprehension of what his questions and 
answers are about is not surprising to anyone who knows the 
customs and mentality of the republic of scholarship. 

The writing of cultural history is itself a cultural-historical 
phenomenon which has to go through the individual life-phases 
established by Spengler: childhood, youth, maturity, and old age. 
In childhood man lives like a vegetable, thinks only of himself 
and the nearest obj ects; and in that stage he does not yet write 
any history at all; in youth he sees the world as a poet, and his 
conception of history, therefore, takes the form of a poem; in the 
maturity of manhood he regards action as the aim and signifi¬ 
cance of existence, and he writes political history; in old age he 
at last begins to understand, but only in a weary, resigned man¬ 
ner. And Spengler’s work constitutes by its very existence the 
most impressive proof of the rightness of his construction of his¬ 
tory. The ultimate aim of Western evolution, as Spengler sees it, 
is the nervous, disciplined mentality of civilized man, the illusion¬ 
less factual philosophy, scepticism and historicism of the cos- 

i 

mopolitan — is, in a word, Spengler. By this no malice or double 
meaning is intended. It has been from all time the prerogative of 
thinkers to prove themselves, and the greater the thinker, the bet¬ 
ter founded, more obvious, and inescapable is this prerogative. 

But: — Spengler is the product of his age precisely in that he 
is an atheist, agnostic, and materialist in disguise. He takes his 
stand on biology, experimental psychology, the more subtle sta¬ 
tistics, and even mechanics. He does not believe in a meaning of 
the universe, in the inherent divinity. The Decline of the West is 
the fascinating fiction of a civilized thinker who is no longer 
capable of believing it possible to soar. Spengler is the last and 
finest and most spiritualized heir of the technical age, and at bot¬ 
tom the most brilliant pupil of Darwin and the English sensual¬ 
ism, even in his very inversions of these doctrines — indeed it is 


39 



in these very inversions that his origins perhaps disclose them¬ 
selves most surely. That is why only his historical conclusions 
are absolutely compelling, and not by any means his philosophical. 
When, for instance, we read on the last page of his work: “ It is 
Time whose inexorable movement embeds the ephemeral incident 
of the Culture, on this planet, in the incident of Man — a form 
wherein the incident life flows on for a time,” his assertions are 
true and yet not true: true, that is, as vital manifestations of a 
definite historical variety of man, that of today, of which Spengler 
himself is an example, and one of the most shining; and neither 
more nor less true than fetishism in primitive peoples, or the 
Ptolemaic world-system of the Classical age. 

Fruitful new ideas never come from an individual, but from 
the age. It is the very touchstone of its value that such ideas occur 
simultaneously to many people. Spengler recognizes this too when 
he says in his preface: “ An idea that is historically essential — 
that does not occur within an epoch, but itself makes that epoch 
— is only in a limited sense the property of him to whose lot it 
falls to patent it. It belongs to the time as a whole and influences 
all thinkers without their knowing it.” And, in fact, there appeared 
almost on the same day as Spengler’s first volume a remarkable 
book by the Swiss writer C. H. Meray, which started from the 
basis that every civilization was a self-contained whole, a living 
thing similar to the multicellular organisms. We even find there 
the proposition: “ so many religions, so many civilizations.” The 
religions are said to be, as it were, the nerve-centres of individual 
cultures, the vital activity of which they unify and regulate. 
Further, every civilization has its own style; this too has its 
parallel phenomenon in the world of cells, where the protoplasm 

has likewise a specific constitution — its chemical structure_ 

by which the genus of each individual living organism can be in¬ 
stantly determined. In the case of all these civilizations, now, the 
observer will find that after a certain time — that is, after about 
two to three thousand years — they die. The Egyptian, the Sume- 
nan, the Babylonian, the Mycenaean, and the recently discovered 
Mmoan: all these high and very individual cultures failed to pass 

j (. . . , B ^ °re, just like organisms, a 

definite length of life, which may doubtless be curtailed through 
violent attacks from outside, but can in no case be extended. In 


40 



such a condition of decline our present culture now finds itself. 
With the help of what we may call this cultural-physiological 
method, the author, in the beginning of 1918, undertook not only 
to explain the causes and course of the World War up to date, but 
also to foretell its end and consequences — which he did with 
complete success. 

Naturally Spengler did not draw purely on the consciousness 
of the age, but made use of his forerunners: Hegel, Nietzsche, 
Taine, Lamprecht, and Breysig. The writer of the present work 
feels justified in doing the same, but with this difference — that 
he is in the enviable position of being able to make use of Spengler 
as well. 

And so, in the course of our historical sketch, we arrive at the 
latest attempt at cultural history — namely, our own. On this a 
few brief general remarks will perhaps be permitted here. 

In Germany, when a writer desires to say anything publicly, 
distrust is immediately aroused in various directions. First, has 
this man the right, anyhow, to contribute to the discussion ? Then, 
is he competent to do so ? Next, do not his statements contain con¬ 
tradictions and discrepancies, and, finally, has no one else said 
it all before him? To put it in three words, he is charged with 
dilettantism, paradox, and plagiarism. 

As regards dilettantism, it should be borne in mind that vital 
energy dwells in any activities only so long as they are practised 
by amateurs. It is the amateur, happily so named, who alone 
stands in a really human relation to his objects; only in ama¬ 
teurs do the man and his professions coincide. That is why an 
amateur can pour his own self into his activity, saturating it with 
the essence of his being; whereas things which are practised as a 
profession have invariably a touch of the worst sort of loving¬ 
ness, whether it takes the form of a particular one-sidedness or 
limitation, of subjectivity or narrowness of outlook. The expert is 
too tightly wedged into his professional circle and is almost never 
in a position to bring about a real revolution. He has grown up 
with tradition and respects it in spite of himself. Also he knows 
too much of the detail of his subj ect to see things simply enough, 
and, losing that, he loses the first essential of intellectual fertility. 
Thus the whole history of the sciences affords a continuous ex¬ 
ample of the value of dilettantism. The law of the conservation of 

41 



The in * 
evitable 
•paradox 


energy we owe to a brewer named Joule; Fraunhofer was a glass- 
cutter, Faraday a bookbinder. It was Goethe who discovered the 
intermaxillary bone, and Parson Mendel the basic law of hy¬ 
bridization. The Duke of Meiningen, a royal amateur “pro¬ 
ducer,” has created a new theatre-style; Priessnitz, a peasant 
amateur of the art of healing, a new system of therapeutics. These 
are merely instances taken from the nineteenth century, and 
only represent a fraction of the cases available. 

Productivity presupposes the courage to talk of connexions 
that are not quite perfectly established, to report on facts not 
quite accurately observed, to describe events of which nothing 
quite reliable is known; in short, to say things of which the only 
thing that can be proved is that they are wrong. Especially does 
this apply to every sort of productiveness in the fields, of philos¬ 
ophy and art, or even remotely connected with them. 

Particularly when we come to cultural history will it be found 
positively impossible to handle the subject except in the ama¬ 
teur spirit. For a historian must obviously choose between two 
things. Either he must write seriously, authoritatively, and au¬ 
thentically on one branch or subject — such as the Wiirttemberg 
dty-feuds in the second half of the fifteenth century, the genealogy 
of the Ugly Duchess, or, as Dr. Jorgen Tesman, State Research 
Scholar in Cultural History has done, on the domestic industries 
of Brabant in the Middle Ages; or he must combine several or 
all branches, for the purpose of comparison, and deal with them 
in a superficial, inaccurate, and dubious fashion. A universal his¬ 
tory can only be compiled out of a vast stock of dilettantish re¬ 
searches, incompetent judgments, and incomplete data. 

The question of paradox can be disposed of with equal dis¬ 
patch. First, it is part of the fate of every so-called “ truth ” to 
travel along the path leading from paradox to commonplace, to 
be absurd yesterday and trivial tomorrow. We are, therefore, con¬ 
fronted with the sad alternative of proclaiming the coming truths 
and being considered quacks or semi-lunatics, or of repeating the 
arrived truths and writing ourselves down as bores. We have 

to choose between being a nuisance and being superfluous; there 
is no third choice. 


It sh °“ ld •» observed, too, that the greatest men are forced 
to contradtct themselves constantly. They are, after all, forcing- 




beds for more than one truth. Everything living takes root in their 
soil. That is why the plants which they produce are so varied, and 
often so contrasted, in type. These souls are too objective, too 
rich, too well endowed in every way, and too comprehending to 
have only one opinion about a particular thing. Not only the 
brain of secular importance, but every thinking person is obliged 
to contradict himself sometimes. Did not Emerson say: “A fool¬ 
ish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. . . . Speak what 
you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow 
thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you 
said today.” 

Goethe meant the same thing when he told Eckermann that 
truth was like a diamond, which sends its gleams, not in one di¬ 
rection, but in several at once; and Baudelaire wrote to Philoxene 
Royer: “ Among all these rights we have heard about lately, one 
has been forgotten: the right to contradict oneself.” 

But there is more to it than that. Contradiction is, quite sim¬ 
ply, the form — the necessary form — in which our whole process 
of thought is carried on. That which we call the “ truth ” of a 
thing is found not in statement A or the contradictory statement 
non-A, but in a unit which embraces both these conflicting opin¬ 
ions and is in a sense on a higher spiral plane of intellect. The 
whole history of mankind’s spiritual development consists in 
striving to find the true midway-conception by which two one¬ 
sided and therefore false ways of looking at reality can meet and 
be reconciled. It was, as we know, on the recognition of this that 
Hegel based his vast system of philosophy, in which he applied his 
simple and effective scheme of Thesis — Antithesis — Synthesis 
to anything and everything, and it was the compelling power of 
this wise and profound discovery which gave the Hegelian sys¬ 
tem, for half a century, its almost absolute supremacy in every 
cultural sphere and led all creative intellects — whether physi¬ 
cists or metaphysicians, artists or j urists, court preachers or labour 
leaders — to speak, so to say, in the Hegelian dialect. The es¬ 
sence of this philosophy may be seen in a more popular but no 
less pertinent form in the following anecdote told of Ibsen. He 
was speaking with great enthusiasm of Bismarck at a party, when 
someone asked him how so fanatical a champion for the freedom 
of the individual could be so enthusiastic about a man who was a 


43 



The legiti¬ 
mate fla - 
giarist 


conservative in his whole outlook, an advocate, in fact, of the 
suppression of other men’s individualities. Upon which Ibsen 
smiled into his interrogator’s face and said: “ But have you never 
noticed that every idea, when you have thought it out to the end, 
becomes its own opposite? ” 

Finally, as to the question of plagiarism, crying out about 
intellectual borrowings is one of the most superfluous occupations 
in the world. Every plagiarism is in fact its own punishment. On 
it rests the curse which turns all stolen goods, whether of the 
mental or of the physical order, into joyless possessions. It Alls 
the thief with an uncertainty and embarrassment which is visible 
fifty yards away. Nature countenances no dishonest dealings. It 
is only our own thoughts that we can really set in motion, be¬ 
cause they alone are our organs. An idea which belongs, not to 
us, but to another, we cannot handle; it will throw us as surely 
as a horse a strange rider; it is like a casket with a puzzlc-lock 
to which one has no clue, or like a passport which opens the door 
into foreign lands, but only for those whose portrait and signature 
it bears. Therefore, do not bother if people steal as much intellec¬ 
tual treasure as they can lay hands on, for no one will suffer more 
for it than they themselves, when they find that they have wasted 
their precious time on something hopelessly unprofitable to them. 

But there are also, of course, unconscious plagiarisms, or, 
rather, plagiarisms committed with a good conscience, just as 
one might call any trader a thief with a good conscience. Whether 
Proudhon s mot La propnsts c sst Is vol ” is precisely correct in 
the field of economics is doubtful; in the domain of the intellect 
it undoubtedly is so. For, strictly speaking, the whole of the 
world s literature consists of plagiarisms. The tracing of sources, 
said Goethe to Eckermann, was “ very absurd.” “ As well might 
one inquire of a well-nourished man as to the oxen, sheep, and 
pigs he had consumed and from which he had drawn his strength. 
We have our native talents, it is true, but our development we owe 
to the thousand outer influences of a great world, from which we 
appropriate what we can and what suits us. . . . The main thing 
is to have a soul which loves truth and absorbs it where it finds it. 
In any case the world is now so old, and for millennia so many 
important persons have lived and thought in it, that there is little 
that is new to discover or say. Even my colour theory is by no 

A A 

II 



means new. Plato, Leonardo, and many other excellent men have 
discovered and thought the same in detail before me. Yet the fact 
that I also discovered it, that I said it over again, and that I 
strove to gain admittance for truth to a world in confusion — 
that is my merit.” And this must have been a very considerable 
admission on Goethe’s part, for we know that there was nothing 
he was more proud of than his theory of colour. 

The whole intellectual history of mankind is a history of 
thefts. Alexander stole from Philip, Augustine from St. Paul, 
Giotto from Cimabue, Schiller from Shakspere, Schopenhauer 
from Kant. And when a period of stagnation sets in, the reason 
is always that too little is being stolen. In the Middle Ages, thefts 
were made only from the Christian Fathers and Aristotle: that 
was not enough. In the Renaissance all the odds and ends of 
literature were snapped up: hence the tremendous intellectual 
revival which took hold of European humanity at that time. And 
when it happens that a great artist or thinker fails in his mission, 
it is always because he cannot find enough people to rob him. 
Socrates had the rare good fortune to find in Plato a perfectly un¬ 
scrupulous thief who knew his trade thoroughly: without Plato 
he would have remained unknown. The question of priority is of 
great interest in the case of vacuum cleaners, quick cookers and 
pocket lighters, but in the sphere of intellect it is of no importance 
whatever. For, as we have pointed out in the case of Spengler, the 
good ideas which live and fructify are never hacked out by a single 
individual, but are always the work of the collective consciousness 
of a whole epoch. The real point is, who will formulate them 
most crisply, illumine them most clearly, follow them up in all 
their possible applications. “At bottom,” said Goethe, “we are 
all collective natures, pose individually as we may. For how little 
have we, and are we, that we can in the purest sense call our 
own! ... I owe my works by no means to my own wisdom 
alone, but to thousands of things and persons outside myself, who 
provide me with the material. Fools and wise men, clear and 
circumscribed thinkers, childhood, youth, and maturity: all these 
came to me and told me what they were like, what they thought, 
how they lived and worked, and what store of experience they 
had, so that all I had to do was to turn to and reap what others 
had sown for me.” 


45 



Patholog¬ 
ical and 
physiolog¬ 
ical origi¬ 
nality 


Shakspere, as is well known, copied Plutarch word for word 
in Julius C cesar. Some regret that there should be this great blem¬ 
ish on this great poet. Others are tolerant and say: a Shakspere 
may do it. But to both the true reply is that if nothing were known 
of Shakspere but this, it alone would stamp him as a real poet. 
It is true, great poets are often original, but only when they are 
obliged to be. They have never the desire to be original: that is 
left to literary men. A poet is a person who sees and is able to 
see — that is all. And he is glad when, once in a way, he can in¬ 
dulge to the full his natural bent: which is to copy. If Shakspere 
copied out Plutarch, he did it not although but because he was a 
poet. Genius has a passionate love for the good and the worthy; 
it seeks nothing but these. And when another person, say Plu¬ 
tarch, has the truth in him, why move a single step away from 
him? What might not happen if one did! There would be the 
danger of setting a truth less great and true in the place of the old 
one, and this is the danger more dreaded by genius than the loss 
of its originality. It would sooner copy, sooner be a plagiarist. 

Pascal says somewhere in his Pensees: “ Certain writers al¬ 
ways speak of their works as ‘ my book, my commentary, my his¬ 
tory.’ It reminds me of the good citizens who on every occasion 
say ‘my house.’ It would be better if they said: our book, our 
commentary, our history, when we consider that the good in them 
comes from others more than from themselves.” In sum, we are 
all only plagiarists of the Weltgeist, secretaries who write to its 
dictation. Some do it better, some worse, and that is the whole dif¬ 
ference. But Pascal supplements his remark with another: “ Some 
readers insist that an author should never speak of things of which 
others have already spoken. If he does so, they reproach him for 
saying nothing new. In a game of ball one uses the same ball as 
another; but one of the two throws it better. As well reproach 
an author for using old words: as if the same thought in a dif¬ 
ferent order did not constitute another mental organism, just as 
words in a changed order constitute other ideas.” The fact is that 
the unoriginality lies mostly in the reader. The remark: “ There 
is nothing to me in that, I have heard it somewhere before ” is 
heard most frequently from the lips of untalented, inartistic, un¬ 
productive people. A talented man, on the other hand, realizes 
that there is nothing he has “ heard somewhere before,” but that, 

46 



on the contrary, everything is new. The European supposes all 
Negroes to have the same face because he does not understand 
Negro faces. And the Philistine supposes all men to have the same 
intellectual physiognomy because he does not understand intel¬ 
lectual physiognomies. “ Those people who never think for them¬ 
selves,” says Kant in his Prolegomena, “ have yet the cunning, 
when something has been shown to them, to spy it out in what has 
already been said elsewhere, although till then no one has been 
able to see it there.” 

Materially nothing is fundamentally new; only the interplay 
of intellectual forces is ever new. Indeed, we may take the last 
step and say: everyone in full possession of his faculties is con¬ 
tinuously being compelled to plagiarize. The well-ordered, well- 
refined realm of truth is small; only the wilderness of folly and 
error, caprice and idiocy, is boundless and bottomless. People 
who say anything wholly new must be looked upon with sus¬ 
picion, for that something is practically always a lie. Originality 
is twofold: it can be good or bad. Every new organism is original, 
and this physiological originality is valuable and fruitful. But side 
by side with it there exists a pathological originality, and that has 
no value at all and no tenacity at all, although it counts in m an y 
quarters as the one and only real originality. It is the originality 
of the fat boy and double-headed calf of the shows. 

Shortly after writing these closing observations, I happened to 
pick up an old volume of Die Zeit, in which I found an essay by 
Hermann Bahr on “ Plagiarisms.” The concluding sentence read 
as follows: “ If we deprive the artist of his right to give us beauty 
as he feels it, regardless of whether it has already been given or 
not; if we deprive the connoisseur of the right to make for the 
genuine, whether it be old or new; if, in fact, we accept only those 
things that have never appeared before, then we are opening the 
door to every kind of freak, and he who is the biggest fool will be¬ 
come our favourite author.” Here is a case of accidental “ parallel¬ 
ism,” one might think, but it is not so. As a devoted reader of 
Hermann Bahr from the beginning, I must obviously have read 
this sentence in the Zeit in my school-days, and it has now risen 
to the surface from my subconsciousness. From which it is dear 
that one cannot even talk about plagiarizing without plagiarizing. 


47 




BOOK i: RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION 

From the Black Death to the Thirty Years’ War 




CHAPTER I 


THE BEGINNING 


u Does not the best everywhere begin with 
illness P ” 


Novalis 


A little reflection shows that all the classifications ever made 
by man are arbitrary, artificial, and incorrect. But an equally 
simple reflection shows these same classifications to be useful and 
indispensable, and indeed unavoidable, because they arise out of 
an inborn tendency of our mind. For the will to classify is deeply 
rooted in the human being. He takes a strong and even passionate 
delight in dividing things up, placing them in compartments, and 
labelling them. With many children boxes are the favourite toy; 
but grown-ups too always carry an invisible grid about with them. 
The simple, lucid arrangement of most of nature’s products: the 
clearly defined segmentation of an animal body, the regular knots 
of a flower stalk, that are, as it were, the stories of its structure, 
and the sharp-cut surfaces and angles of the crystal — all these 
have for us a peculiarly refreshing look. We demand that a poem 
should have stanzas, a drama acts, a symphony movements, a 
book sections: without these we feel oddly worried, estranged, 
and wearied. A face without definitely marked features strikes us 
as unlovely or meaningless. We esteem people and natures ac¬ 
cording to their skill in grading, analysing, separating: that which 
we call art is, indeed, almost identical with the power to do these 
things. The Greek architects and sculptors have been the teachers 
of thousands of years because they were masters of classification 
and proportion. Dante’s fame as poet rests partly on his having 
made the mysterious world of the beyond transparent and tangi¬ 
ble by defining the circles of which it was composed. And has it 
not ever been science’s sole task to parcel out reality into groups, 
and by skilful disparting and ranking to enable us to understand 
and deal with the mass of factual material ? We say indeed that Na¬ 
ture makes no leaps. But it would seem that the intermediate 


Si 



forms through which she has to pass do not seem to her of great 
importance, since she has preserved none of them, but uses them 
merely as auxiliary lines and temporary bridges to bring her to 
her actual goal — the sharply distinct groups and kingdoms. 
Striking contrasts, not smudged transitions, are what she aims at. 
Or, rather, let us say that this is the only way in which we can see 
it. In observing a development process, what fascinates and stirs 
us is always that mysterious jump, and it is almost never absent. 
In every biography it is the sudden illumination and darkenings, 
transformations and turnings, cuts and changes of accent, that 
hold our sympathy; that which marks the section, the epoch. In 
short, we only feel comfortable in an articulated, graded, punc¬ 
tuated world. 

The right This applies particularly to everything which runs a course in 
t° fenodtze t j me _ Ti me j s perhaps the most terrible of all the terrors with 
which mankind is surrounded — transient and uncanny, formless 
and unfathomable, a point of section between the two threaten¬ 
ing uncertainties. There is the past, which no longer is and yet 
looms oppressively over our Now, and there is the future, which 
is not yet and nevertheless weighs heavily on our today; but the 
present we can never grasp. Time, therefore — our noblest and 
most precious dowry — does not belong to us. We try to possess 
it and instead are possessed by it, are driven relentlessly on to¬ 
wards a phantom which we call “ tomorrow ” and yet can never 
reach. But for that very reason man endlessly strives to divide and 
apportion time into ever smaller and more exact portions, call¬ 
ing on air, sand, water, light, and all the elements to help him to 
perform the task better and better. His strongest craving, his per¬ 
petual dream, is to bring chronology into the world. Once we have 
made time systematic and comprehensible, measurable and cal¬ 
culable, we delude ourselves into thinking that we control it, that 
it belongs to us. Even the savage has his rough, simple methods of 
doing this. Classical man, more earthly and less subtilizing than 
Christian man, was content with the sun*s shadow, but even the 
Middle Ages were acquainted with clocks and we of today with 
our never-stilled fear of life and our Faustian restlessness have 
apparatus to register the four hundred thousandth part of a sec¬ 
ond. It is just the same if we exchange the time microscope for the 
time telescope and make a broad survey of our race; we are no 

52 



longer satisfied with our ancestors’ naive, symbolical division into 
the golden, the silver, and the iron age; we insist upon more pre¬ 
cise, sharper, more comprehensive divisions. It is, of course, easy 
to indulge in polemics against every kind of periodization: to say, 
for instance, that everything is one great single river which, like 
any other river, covers long spaces in its preparatory stages and 
other long spaces in its development, and, in fact, is without 
definable limits in either direction; and that we might as well try 
to cut up the ocean into sections. Yet, do we not in fact do this 
very thing when we draw our meridians and parallels? We are 
always being assured that throughout nature and life there are 
only step-by-step transitions, degrees, and differentials. And we 
hear these subtle arguments and admit them, but do not believe 
them. For at the bottom of our thought there is a knowledge that 
is more positive and original than all scientific cognitions, and 
this native, wholesome, unswerving knowledge, common to the 
vulgar and the truly learned, rejects this posthumous wisdom and 
clings firmly to its postulate that every course should have its 
beginning and its end, its overture and its finale. If we look at the 
life of the individual, which is more easily examined than the evo¬ 
lution of the totality, we shall see that blurred transitions are by 
no means the rule, but rather that the entry into a new period of 
life takes place with the abruptness of an explosion. Suddenly — 
“ overnight,” as people say — puberty or senility is there. It has, 
naturally, been “ prepared,” but it becomes actual usually in the 
form of an astonishing physiological jerk, and it is often also 
the solution of some profound spiritual experience. Then we say: 

“ Why, you’re a man all at once,” or (behind his back): “ Why, 
he’s become an old man all at once.” Wilhelm Fliess, in his in¬ 
teresting book Der Ablauf des Lebens says: “Suddenness is 
proper to all life’s processes. It is fundamental. . . . The child 
is suddenly in possession of a new articulation. . . . Equally cer¬ 
tain it is that the child suddenly begins to walk.” Man grows 
mysteriously in the womb, becoming worm, fish, reptile, and 
mammal in turn; yet every one of us has his definite birthday, 
even his birth-minute. And so we may say of the history of our 
race that there are definite points in time at which a new kind 
of man is born, only these points will not be days, but possibly 
years or even decades. 


S3 



The con¬ 
ception of 
the new 
man 


The 
<c transi¬ 
tional 
period ” 


But if we pursue this analogy somewhat more closely, we a 
once see a point where need for a correction presents itself. Whei 
does a human life “ begin ” ? Obviously not at the moment o 
birth, but at the moment of conception. In the marvellous anc 
illuminating investigations into the mysterious phenomenon oi 
periodicity which have been undertaken during the last decades 
in connexion with Fliess’s work, calculations are always based on 
a point about nine months before the date of birth. Astrologers 
did the same in casting a horoscope of birth. The beginning of a 
new section in history should, therefore, be set at that point in 
time when the new man is conceived, using the word in its double 
sense. A new era does not start with the beginning or the end of a 
big war, a powerful political upheaval, or an important redistri¬ 
bution of territory; it is born at the moment when a new variety 
of the human race appears on the scene. For in history it is only 
the inner experiences of mankind which count. At the same time, 
the immediate impulse may often arise out of some overwhelming 
external event, some general catastrophe, a profound readjust¬ 
ment of the social stratification, extensive invasions, or sudden 
economic crises. As a rule, then, the beginning is made by some 
great trauma, some shock—for example, the Doric invasion, the 
Great Migration of the peoples, the French Revolution, the Thirty 
Years’ War, the World War. This is followed by a traumatic 
neurosis, which really constitutes the incubator of the new being. 
By it everything is thrown about and broken down into a labile, 
anarchic, chaotic condition; mental and spiritual standards are 
shaken up and, so to say, mobilized. Only later does the “ psy¬ 
chomotor superstructure,” as the psychiatrists call it — namely, 
the system of cerebral regulations, checks, and safeguards by 
which the normal course of the soul’s functions is guaranteed — 
begin to take shape: all “classicisms” belong in this group of 
epochs. 

Working on this scheme now, we propose to risk the assertion 
that the year 1348, that of the Black Death, was the year in which 
modern man was conceived. 

Modem times do not, therefore, begin where the schools would 
have them begin. There has indeed always been a dim suspicion 
that the traditional dates fixed for this begining only very sum¬ 
marily and superficially express the real content of the facts. Most 


54 



historians help themselves out with a “transition period,” by 
which they mean in a general way the fifteenth century. Breysig 
introduces the idea of a “ late Middle Age,” which he dates 
as “the time between about 1300 and about 1500.” Houston 
Chamberlain goes further back in his clever if rather one-sided 
Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. For him the “ pivot ” 
of European history is the awakening of the Germans to their 
world-historical mission as founders of an entirely new civiliza¬ 
tion and an entirely new culture; and the year 1200 is the mean 
moment of this awakening. Scherer, it is true, adheres to a “ de¬ 
clining” Middle Age, yet he opens his chapter on that period 
with the words: “ The Flagellants and the first German univer¬ 
sity stand significantly at the entrance of a three-hundred-year 
epoch which lasts until the Peace of Westphalia.” It is only 
natural, however, that the obvious necessity of recognizing an 
earlier beginning for modern times should have dawned much 
sooner on the “ laity ” than on the experts. Even Vasari placed 
the Rinascita at the beginning of the Trecento. Gustav Freytag 
writes in his Bilder aus der deutschen Fergangenheit, which re¬ 
mains to this day the most vivid, impressive, and convincing cul¬ 
tural history of the German people: “ On closer examination we 
see that silent forces had long been actively preparing these great 
events . . . which determined the fate not only of the Germans, 
but of all the nations on earth. . . . From this point of view the 
time between the Hohenstaufen and the Thirty Years’ War, the 
four hundred years between 1254 and 1648, appears as a uniform, 
self-contained period in German history, which stands out sharply 
against the periods that preceded and followed.” And Fritz Mauth- 
ner, too, in his Atheismus und seine Geschichte im Abendland, 
arrives at this formula: “ If by the Middle Ages we understand 
all the centuries in which ecclesiastical conceptions were still 
operative . . . then the period lasted until the Peace of West¬ 
phalia . . . but if we understand it as meaning only those cen¬ 
turies in which theocracy reigned undisputed . . . these Middle 
Ages would have to stop long before the end of the fifteenth cen¬ 
tury — about two hundred years earlier.” 

We see, then, that the new age entered the world at the open¬ 
ing of the sixteenth century, but that it came into being in the 
fourteenth and fifteenth. And, further, it came into being through 


55 



Beginning 
of the ex¬ 
cursus on the 
value of 
sickness 


disease. This apparently paradoxical explanation — that disease 
is something productive — must, therefore, have first place in our 
investigations. 

All disease is a functional disturbance within the organism. 
But only a very superficial method of study would content itself 
with lumping the notions of functional disturbance and of injury 
together. Even from the history of political and social life, of art, of 
science, and of religious belief, it must be obvious that the over¬ 
throw of the existing equilibrium is certainly not always to be 
classed among pernicious phenomena; rather is it clear that a new 
idea, if it is to bear fruit, or a new form, if it is to be beneficial, can 
only fulfil itself by way of a catastrophe, through some disintegra¬ 
tion of the parts and displacement of the existing parallelogram of 
forces. And, from a conservative standpoint, such a condition 
must invariably appear one of sickness. An inkling that disease 
is closely bound up with the mystery of “ becoming ” has been 
widespread in the humanity of every age. Popular instinct has 
always regarded sick people, particularly the mentally sick, with 
a certain reserve, compounded of fear and respect. The Romans 
called epilepsy “ morbus sacer, morbus div'mus the Pythia, who 
was entrusted with the solution of Greece’s most important prob¬ 
lems and with the divination of the future, would seem, judging 
by what we know of her, to have been what today we should call 
a hysterical medium. The high value that is placed on suffering 
in so many religions has its roots in the conviction that it raises 
rather than lowers the vital functions and leads to a knowledge 
from which the healthy are debarred. Asceticism is, in both its 
oriental and its Western manifestations, an attempt — by every 
imaginable “ weakening ” device such as under-nourishment, in¬ 
somnia, flagellation, solitude, and sexual abstinence — to make 
the organism artificially morbid and thereby to translate it into 
a higher state. In legend almost all the saints and the like who 
are distinguished in some way by God show bodily inferiorities. 
It is only another aspect of this conception that earlier centuries 
tended to regard hysterical women as witches, as the elect of 
God’s great enemy, whom the belief of that day credited with 
almost as great a power as the Creator’s. In short, we meet 
everywhere the more or less definite feeling that a sick man is 
constitutionally more blessed, more enlightened, more pregnant 

56 



with life, that he represents a higher form of life than his healthy 
fellows. 

It must, of course, be clear to even the most philistine mind 
that every human being learns through the condition of illness. 
The diseased organism is more restless and therefore more de¬ 
sirous of learning; more sensitive and therefore more capable of 
learning; more precariously situated and therefore more alert, 
sensing and hearing more acutely; living permanently in famili¬ 
arity with the neighbourhood of danger and therefore bolder, 
more regardless, more enterprising; nearer to the threshhold of 
the other world and its spiritual state and therefore more incor¬ 
poreal, transcendent, and spiritualized. After all, generally speak¬ 
ing, every step in the direction of spiritualization represents at 
bottom a phenomenon of illness, the last means of self-preserva¬ 
tion, provided by nature when the physique is exhausted. Higher 
things are, therefore, invariably less healthy things. The very 
complication of an organism, if very high, involves a liability to 
constant disturbance of equilibrium, or at the very least to the 
danger of such disturbance, and hence insecurity, disequilibrium, 
lability. “ Healthiest ” of all is undoubtedly the amoeba. 

Wherever something new is being formed, there is weakness, 
sickness, and “ decadence.” Wherever new germs are developing, 
there is an apparent condition of reduced vitality, as in pregnant 
women, children cutting teeth, or moulting canaries. In spring all 
nature is in a sort of neurasthenia. Pithecanthropus was certainly 
a decadent. The disease commonly known as nervousness is in 
fact nothing but enhanced susceptibility to irritants, and increased 
rapidity of reaction, richer and bolder power of association: in a 
word, spirit. The more highly developed an organism, the more 
nervous it is. The white man is more nervous than the Negro, the 
townsman than the countryman, modern man than mediaeval 
man, the poet than the Philistine. In the animal world there is 
the same relativity: a sportsman’s dog is more nervous than a 
butcher’s dog, and a butcher’s dog than a bullock. Hystericals 
have so much power of spirit that they can control matter. On 
their own bodies they are able to produce at will swellings, haem¬ 
orrhages, stigmata, and even trances, and have frequently been 
found to have second sight. On a smaller scale all this repeats 
itself in the neurasthenic, with his acuteness of vision. In his case 

57 



Higher 
value of 
organs m 
lowered 
condition 


it is simply that his senses are less dormant, making him keen 
more easily moved and stirred and more curious. All the cum 
definitions of neurasthenia are nothing but ugly circumlocutic 
for the physiological states of talent. 

The convalescent feels his condition as one of curious buc 
ancy and exaltation, in comparison with which full return 
health appears as a set-back. This is because every illness repi 
sents a heroic struggle for existence, a final desperate exertion 
strength, which is the threatened organism’s reply to insults ai 
invasions from without. The body is then in an exceptional wa 
like condition, a state of general insurrection in which the i: 
dividual cells rise to feats of energy, intensifications of vitalit 
controls of reserves and reactions of which they could never hai 
been supposed capable. 

It is not surprising that the problem of the value of illness he 
roused the attention of some of our most intensive modern thinl 
ers. Hebbel noted in his Diaries: “ The states of illness are i. 
fact nearer to the true (the durable-eternal) than those of so-calle 
health.” Novalis asserts that illnesses probably form “ the mos 
interesting stimulant and material for our reflectiveness and ou 
activity” if only we possessed the art of using them, and he asks 
“ Might not illness be a means of obtaining a higher synthesis ? ! 

i 

And Nietzsche, the passionate opponent of modern decadence, ha: 
nevertheless stressed in many passages the great importance o: 
disease in mental self-discipline. In the preface to Frohliche Wis- 
senschaft he even arrives at this conclusion: “ As regards illness, 
are we not almost tempted to ask whether we could possibly 
do without it ? ” 

Alfred Adler, in his Studie iiber Minderwertigkeit von Or- 
ganen, was the first to handle this question in a strictly scientific 
manner. When this brief work appeared, in 1907, it remained 
practically unnoticed and it was later, and chiefly through his 
psychoanalytical investigations, that the author became widely 
known. These did not, as is generally assumed, combat Freud’s 
doctrine, but were much more in the nature of a supplement to it 

which shows that it would indeed be a good thing if we indulged 
less in amateurish and fruitless polemics and took to heart 
Goethe s remark apropos his relation to Schiller: that people ought 
to be glad there were a couple of fellows worth quarrelling over.” 

58 



Adler starts from the experimental basis that, in the human 
organism, all inferior material has a tendency to develop an “ ex¬ 
cess value ” — that is, to react with increased productivity to the 
relatively stronger vital stimulants to which it is exposed — hence 
the frequency with which we find that loci minoris resist entice de¬ 
velop an abnormal efficiency. The cause is found in the compul¬ 
sion of constant practice and the heightened adaptability which 
not seldom distinguished organs in lowered condition. The result 
of hereditary inferiority of organs may be traced to motor in¬ 
sufficiency, inadequate production of the appropriate gland secre¬ 
tions, or poor development of reflexes; but equally also to exag¬ 
gerated stimulus, hypersecretions, and high development of the 
reflexes. 

This in brief constitutes Adler’s discovery. If we think it over 
a little and try to draw some simple conclusions from it, we shall 
arrive at very surprising results. Let us begin with inorganic na¬ 
ture. Here we find the simplest, most elementary expression of 
the facts in the law of action and reaction. If, for instance, I hit 
a billiard ball with the help of a second ball, it by no means re¬ 
mains passive, but hits back — and with the same amount of 
force as that with which it is struck. The stimulus of the knock, 
the shock, releases productive energies within the ball itself. 
Springs which are not stretched lose their elasticity gradually. A 
horseshoe magnet increases its magnetism, the longer it is made 
to pull its armature. Rubber falls to pieces if it is not stretched — 
atrophies for lack of stimuli. Organic matter, too, naturally obeys 
the same principle. A muscle which is not used will gradually de¬ 
generate. This phenomenon, which may be observed in every 
serious bone fracture, is known as the atrophy of inactivity. Con¬ 
versely an organ is hypertrophied when it is under especially 
heavy demands. A smith, a porter, or a wrestler betrays his oc¬ 
cupation at sight by the abnormal development of his arm mus¬ 
cles. It is the property, therefore, of a stimulus that it has a 
nourishing effect, and the more powerfully and regularly an or¬ 
gan is stimulated, the greater will be its capacity. 

We thus arrive at the important conclusion that a diseased 
organ has in certain circumstances more vitality, more capacity, 
and more power of development than a sound one, because a 
disproportionately large number of stimuli tell upon it, disease 


He ,s 
there 

4 

metal 

s 




The 

Lemcean 

Hydra 


playing in these cases precisely the same part as special trainin 
in a normal organism. This is true not only of individual organ) 
but also of the organism as a whole. Take for example the faci 
which we find so amazing, that artists of all sorts, and particular] 
actors, remain youthful for so long and in many cases attain , 
grand old age. The explanation is that they live in an almos 
permanent condition of abnormal stimulation and excitement 
The average person, on the contrary, although he may live fai 
more rationally and respectably, succumbs more easily to th< 
natural process of involution and, on account of the more rigid 
and stable system which he represents, is much more exposed tc 
general and local calcifiation. In his economy of forces, there is 
not enough business; he lacks the contacts, opposition, and polar¬ 
ities which are so beneficial; the life of his cell-state wants the due 
tonics. So much so, in fact, that one might almost make the para¬ 
doxical statement that health is a disease of metabolism. 

Our theory finds a surprising amount of support in the sub¬ 
human world, where one can observe far more closely. I will 
mention only one or two facts, against which I stumbled quite by 
chance — systematic inquiry would undoubtedly produce many 
more. The lizard, as is well known, is able to grow a new piece of 
tail where the first is broken off; and it is stated that this regen¬ 
erated piece is often thicker and stronger than the original tail. A 
species of fresh-water polypus, which thrives in our own region, 
has the peculiarity that when its head is cut off, it replaces it 
promptly by two new ones. It is accordingly called a hydra in 
memory of the Lernsean Hydra, which like so many other “ sagas ” 
is thus found to possess a deep scientific meaning. One species of 
water worms native to our brooks can even be induced to form 
several new heads and tail-tips when incisions are made, and it is 
well known that earthworms and other low forms of animal life 
may be cut into numerous pieces and yet emerge again as com¬ 
plete specimens. This property has even been turned to economic 
account, as in the artificial multiplication of sponges. In such in¬ 
stances, the wounding leads to the production of new individuals, 
for which otherwise sexual propagation is necessary. On some 
ferns curious sprouts are formed by infection from parasitic fungi, 
such as the witches’ brooms ” on bracken. Again, those flowers 
of the lychnis which have become unisexual through the stunted 

60 



growth of the filaments, are rendered bisexual again by a parasitic 
fungus which infects them. In the case of trees, every description 
of injury—worm-eating, damage by wind, or sawing of branches 
— may result in the production of new buds. The growth of gall- 
nuts is due to the poisonous activity of certain insects — flies, 
midges, and wasps — yet it is at least questionable whether these 
products should be regarded as diseased difformities, since they 
have morphologically a great resemblance to fruit and do not hin¬ 
der the tree from flourishing. There are even certain mites which 
generate double flowers on certain varieties of valerian. All this 
helps us to understand that remarkable incident in the life of 
Gretry, father of comic opera, who began to compose from the day 
when a heavy beam fell on his head, and went on to write fifty 
operas; also the fact that Mabillon, the creator of the science of 
palseography, was turned into the great scholar that he was by a 
wound in the head. 

But that the like occurs in the most elementary of life’s forma¬ 
tions is shown, and amazingly shown, in Ehrlich’s theory of side- 
chains. As is well known, he assumes that in the cell there exist 
so-called side-chains whose normal function it is to take up the 
elements of nourishment from the blood circulation and carry 
them into the interior of the cell. These he calls “ receptors,” and 
according to his view the process of infection is due to the poisons’ 
having a greater capacity for becoming incorporated with such 
receptors. They thereby block the way for the nourishing elements 
and bring about the death of the individual, unless the cell suc¬ 
ceeds in getting rid of these combinations of receptors and poison 
molecules, and forming new receptors. But, curiously enough, 
when this happens, the cell not only replaces the original recep¬ 
tors, but creates a considerable surplus in addition. 

The intimate connexion between wounding and new forma¬ 
tion, and the fact that wounding is the only physiological agent 
which is able to take over the role of propagation, brings us to the 
question whether bisexuality — that is, sexuality — is not a mor¬ 
bid phenomenon of degeneration which appeared in organisms 
some time or other in the earth’s history. The fact that the 
American chemist Jacques Loeb has succeeded in fertilizing 
sea-urchins’ eggs by a concentrated salt-water solution makes it 
at least theoretically possible that there have been, or in other 

61 



heavenly bodies still are, forms of propagation which dispen 
with the aid of sexuality. 

The AcMUes “ Stimulus ” is not, however, the sole reason for the highi 
out Of the development of a deficient organ. There is the further fact that tl 
organ in question receives greater attention and is more careiull 
handled, its very backwardness making it, so to say, the mother' 
darling of the organism. Hence it is that, in the human race, nativ 
talents are not always congruent with later developments; rathe 
do we find, and frequently, an original imperfection graduall; 
transformed into a perfection. Here also we have to do with a plaii 
phenomenon of reaction. Adler himself drew attention to the cas< 
of Demosthenes, who had a stammer from birth, and there art 
many other cases where a physiological defect has proved a spui 
to extraordinary achievements in later life. Leonardo and Hol¬ 
bein, Menzel and Lenbach, were all left-handed. The great actors 
of the Burgtheater in the Vienna of Laube’s day — a model of full, 
personal, suggestive acting still unsurpassed — had every one of 
them some defect of speech. Actors with so-called brilliant equip¬ 
ment, on the other hand, rarely produce anything of outstanding 
size and calibre. Connected with this, probably, is the odd though 
undeniable fact that great dramatic talent expresses itself most 
convincingly when it is employed in incarnating qualities that are 
supplementary to the actor’s normal mentality. A man who is 
shy and awkward in private life will be at his best as a confident 
and elegant drawing-room lion. Or he may be taciturn and morose 
at home and yet develop sparkling repartee and gaiety on the 
stage. If he is flabby and lacking in energy in everyday life, his 
best parts will be steely, domineering, vigorous ones. Charlotte 
Wolter, the most powerful heroine of the last fifty years, was 
barely of medium height, and so too was Matkovsky, one of the 
most convincing impersonators of figures larger than life: when 
they stood on the stage, no one noticed their low stature. Heroes of 
real life are sometimes found to have a similar disproportion. The 
two mightiest warriors of early mid-European history, Attila and 
Charlemagne, were thickset and undersized; and the two greatest 
battle-leaders of modem times, Frederick the Great and Napo¬ 
leon, were also small and unimpressive in build. In such cases an 
enormous mental vigour and all-powerful will created an effect of 
contrast out of unfavourable bodily conditions — indeed, it was 

62 



perhaps these conditions that originally set them alight. We are 
also told of the famous amoureuses — La'is, Ninon, Phryne, the 
Pompadour, and others — that they were not actually beautiful, 
but possessed a “ certain something ” which brought everyone un¬ 
der their spell. This “ certain something ” was their charm, their 
amiability, their dazzling wit, or some inward beauty which their 
lack of outward beauty led them to develop. As a contrast, one fre¬ 
quently hears the perfect beauty described as insipid and incapa¬ 
ble of casting a permanent spell. Too little stimulus is received 
from outside, for the whole world worships her, blind and unre¬ 
sisting, so that she has no incentive to develop charm by her own 
efforts. It is almost otiose to recall that Michelangelo, the su¬ 
preme sovereign of the realm of beauty, was repulsively ugly; 
that Lord Byron, ardent worshipper and unrivalled depictor of 
the perfect form, was lame from birth; that Lichtenberg, Ger¬ 
many’s most convincing and natural stylist, whose sentences are 
as illuminating and as straight as candles, and Kant, the world’s 
wonder in logical, vertical, rectilineal thinking, both suffered from 
spinal curvature; that Schubert, who released a whole? world of 
poetry in sound, was a fat, short-legged plebeian, whom the girls 
would not look at. There is a deep symbolism, too, in the fact that 
the greatest musician of the modern age was deaf. The Greeks 
must have had an inkling of this, for they always conceived of the 
seer as blind. Homer, too, with his wide-seeing, sun-intoxicated, 
colour-sensitive world-eye was blind. And Achilles, the invincible, 
the invulnerable, had his heel, waiting for the deadly arrow. One 
might say that in this legend the Greek spirit intended a poetical 
expression of the fact that in even the most victorious enterprise 
there lurks the drop of poison. But what if it were the other way 
round — not that every Achilles has his heel, but that every heel 
has its Achilles ? What if the vulnerable spot, the consciousness of 
its vulnerability, and the dogged, heroic struggle against it causes 
a hero to be born ? A less logical conclusion, but possibly on that 
very account a truer. 

All this leads to an entirely new attitude towards Darwinism. 
Darwin, as is well known, based his conclusions on the two prin¬ 
ciples of heredity and adaptation. As regards heredity, it is easy 
to see that inferiorities are particularly easily transmitted, and 
variability is undoubtedly an unhealthy property. The biologist 

63 



Eimer pointed out in his studies on the appearance of new cha 
acters (in the lizard) that these always mean, in the first plac 
disease. The botanist de Vries, author of the theory of mutatio 
also emphasizes the weakness that new varieties are normal 
weaker than the original forms; they are often remarkably stnal 
extremely sensitive to certain soil diseases, short-stemmed, dest 
tute of lively colour, and with wavy or broken leaves. The seec 
bud does not develop and any rough treatment will cause th 
blooms to drop off. This should not in the least astonish us; foi 
firstly, every new character causes an upheaval in the existin 
economy of the organism and creates an unusual, unconsolidated 
and unguaranteed condition; and, secondly, every variation pre 
supposes decadence. The sense-organs of living creatures are 
after all, but so many forms by which they respond to the stimul 
of the outer world. The rise of new characteristics is, therefore 
caused by an enhanced irritability, somewhat like the “ irritable 
weakness ” of the psychiatrists. At the moment when at some spol 
in the live substance a morbid susceptibility to light appeared foi 
the first time, there came into being the first “ pigment spot ” and 
therewith the beginnings of the means of sight. The more decadent 
the outer skin of an organism, the finer a sense of touch and tem¬ 
perature will it develop. And if we were sufficiently susceptible to 
electric oscillations, we should by this time possess an organ as 
receptive as a Marconi apparatus. It could only have been a 
thoroughly degenerate monkey which first conceived the idea of 
walking upright instead of continuing to go comfortably on all 
fours; and only quite second-class ape-men, who obviously lacked 
the power and enterprise to make themselves effectively under¬ 
stood by a system of vigorous and threatening gestures, could have 
resorted to the substitute of speaking in sounds. Every point of 
difference between man and his brute ancestry may be put down 
to the circumstance of man’s being nature’s stepchild and equipped 
with very inadequate physical weapons; for this led him to create 
for himself the weapon of reason, by which he recalls the past 
and plans out the future. He discovered science, which brings 
light and order into existence; art, which consoles him for 
the ugliness and hostility of reality; philosophy, which gives a 

meaning to his sorrows and disappointments — all products of 
decadence! 


64 



“ Normal ” organisms and their organs have a more Philistine 
or conservative reaction on the stimuli of the outer world. They 
respond conventionally. The receiving gear of the new variety, on 
the contrary, functions in a more original, revolutionary, “ char¬ 
acterless,” adaptable manner; and their finer receptivity of nu¬ 
ances of stimulus causes them to give them more individual re¬ 
sponse. New varieties are nothing more than old ones which can 
no longer support life under existing conditions; in the struggle 
for existence it is not the “ fittest ” — that is, the dullest, most 
brutal, and least intelligent organisms — which survive, as a cer¬ 
tain Philistine’s and tradesman’s philosophy would have us be¬ 
lieve, but the rashest, most labile and intelligent. The selective 
principle of evolution is, not the survival of the fittest, but the 
survival of the unfittest. 

To avoid misconceptions, however, it must be pointed out that, 
in the very nature of things, not every inferior organism is a car¬ 
rier of evolution. Many of these suffer from a “ genuine ” inferior¬ 
ity, being purely and simply incapable of living. Others may have 
the possibility of a higher organization within them, but are the 
martyrs of evolution, the vanguard over whose bodies the main 
body advances. Abnormal irritability may just as well lead to 
atrophy as to hypertrophy. Therefore not every inferior organism 
is a higher form of life, but every higher form of life is inferior. 

But our system has a still wider range. We have not yet con¬ 
sidered one very important result of inferiority: the phenomenon 
of compensation. In introducing this auxiliary conception we ar¬ 
rive at a kind of physiology of genius. Genius is as good a name 
as any for the particular race of men who differ from the rest of 
their species in being creative, and in opposing to the rumour on 
which the masses live, a fact: the fact, that is, of their own ego, 
which is a forcing-bed, a seething focus of life, a powerful reality. 
As this type of human being will engage our attention a good deal 
in this book, this is an appropriate place for certain observations 
on it. 

Although two generations have passed away since the appear¬ 
ance of Lombroso’s Genio e Follia, the sensation that it made is 
still remembered. It sets out to prove, by the aid of a number of 
what may be called special portraits, that a deep affinity exists be¬ 
tween the constitution of the genius and that of the lunatic. The 

65 



merest glance at any branch of history, indeed, will bring ai 
number of sick men of genius into our mind. Tasso and Pc 
Lenau and Holderlin, Nietzsche and Maupassant, Hugo Wc 
and Van Gogh, lost their reason; Caesar and Napoleon, Paul ai 
Mohammed, were epileptics, and probably Alexander the Gre, 
and his father Philip also (for epilepsy seems to have been tl 
“ disease of the Temenidae ” which was hereditary in this family', 
Rousseau and Schopenhauer, Strindberg and Altenburg, suffere 
from persecution-mania. Even in the most unexpected instana 
some sign of degeneration will emerge on closer scrutiny. Tai 
Bismarck for example: popularly supposed to be the very model c 
a burly bone-healthy junker, with immense reserves of strengt 
and intellectual powers of resistance; but actually a great nec 
rasthenic, whose life was a series of crises, who was prone to fa; 
into paroxysms of weeping, and in whom psychical variation 
manifested themselves as migraine, facial neuralgia, and sever 
headaches. The anatomist Hansemann, who examined the brain 
of Helmholtz, Mommsen, Menzel, Bunsen, and other distin 
guished artists and scientists, points out the disproportionate fre 
quency of hydrocephalus (in a mild degree) in people of outstand¬ 
ing intellectual ability. He suggests as an explanation that “ this 
minor form of hydrocephalus in an inherited and specially power¬ 
ful brain organization sets up a slight condition of irritability anc 
thereby stimulates the numerous available paths of association tc 
special activity.” So genius has “ water on the brain ”! Certainly 
it seems safe to say that there has hardly been an important man 
who has not shown some symptom of mental disease. There is not 
a single writer of the front rank who does not display what the 
psychiatrists call iterative phenomena, signs, that is, of dementia 
free cox, the accumulation and repetition of certain pet phrases. In 
this connexion we may recall Plato, Luther, Nietzsche, and Car¬ 
lyle. At bottom, the very essence of genius consists in this. Talent 
is many-sided, mobile, accommodating, and very variable; genius 
is mostly of a rigid and monumental one-sidedness. Rubens al¬ 
ways painted the same rosy, fat, full-bosomed, broad-hipped fe¬ 
male type; Schopenhauer left twelve volumes of collected works 
in which he unceasingly reiterates four to six basic ideas in the 
manner of a strict and rather pedantic schoolmaster. Dostoievski’s 
characters all talk very much alike. But it is this very onesided- 

66 



ness, or even, one might say, narrow-mindedness, which makes 
the genius non-recurring and inimitable. 

All this, and more — for to it everyone can no doubt add his 
quota — forces us to the conclusion that there is no such thing 
as a healthy genius. 

On the other hand, we have only to look at the concentrated 
brain-force, the ruthless logic, the organizing and seeing and 
elucidating power by which the man of genius masters the whole 
phenomenal world; the virtuoso’s confidence with which he takes 
the measure of all things and gives them their due expression; the 
superior art and knowledge with which he controls and shapes 
his own existence; the luminous consistency and structural sense 
in the design and execution, the building-up and scaling-down of 
his work; and the patience and care, steadiness and serene cir¬ 
cumspection with which he goes his way — to be forced to the con¬ 
clusion that there is no such thing as a sick genius. 

Now, Lombroso himself has laid stress on the fact that al¬ 
though genius and madness are very similar states of mind, these 
are by no means identical states; that in fact there is something 
which radically distinguishes them. But what? Here Adler again 
gives us a pointer by establishing the existence of a tendency in 
our organism to compensate the inferiority of one organ by ab¬ 
normal development of another, to make good the under-function¬ 
ing on the one side by over-functioning on the other. We know 
that the halves of the brain, those of the thyroid gland, the lungs, 
kidneys, ovaries, and testicles possess the faculty of intervening 
on each other’s behalf. But it also very frequently happens that 
the central nervous system takes upon itself the main burden of 
such compensation by forming special nerve paths and associa¬ 
tion fibres. The originally inferior organ of sight, for instance, is 
compensated by a strengthened psychic vision. “ Organic inferior¬ 
ity determines . . . the direction of the imaginings of desire and 
guides . . . the processes of compensation.” But the neurotic is 
a particularly significant special case. “ The consciousness of a 
weak point absorbs the nervous subject to such an extent that he 
frequently, though without noticing it, brings the protective super¬ 
structure into being by dint of straining all his powers. In the 
process his sensibility becomes sharpened, he learns to notice con¬ 
nexions which escape others, he takes exaggerated precautions, he 

67 



sees all imaginable consequences ahead when beginning to do 
to suffer anything, strains to hear and to see fuither, and becou 
small-minded, insatiable, penurious.” “ As a rule he will be c 
tinguished by his scrupulously well-regulated behaviour, by p 
cision and pedantry . . . for he hopes thereby to avoid increasi 

life’s complications.” 

Here again we are up against a great general principle of t 
universe, which is operative in the dropping of a stone or t 
polarity of an electric cell as well as in the highest moral pi 
nomena. Nightingales and white-throats are glorious singers, b 
they go plainly dressed 5 peacocks and birds of paradise have 
gorgeous dress, but ugly voices. Tropical climates produce rai 
luxuriance of vegetation, but have a slackening effect on the cha 
acter; while brutality, barrenness, and hostility in nature steel o 
energy and sharpen our understanding. Enhanced supply of flu 
to the organs of circulation produces enlargement of the hear 
a high temperature causes an increase in evaporation of wate: 
infection brings an increase in temperature and health-bringii 
fever. Saints purchase the highest degree of their sanctification t 
world-renunciation; the darlings of the gods are short-liv& 
Hamlet pays for his knowledge by a lack of power to act, Othell 
for his heroism by ignorance. Always and everywhere Natui 
strives to balance the scales, making good every favour with 
defect — but also every drawback with an advantage. 

•the three- If we apply all this to the problem of genius, we find that ever 
fold divi- i n f er iority of the nerve system leads to a sup eriority of the cerebn 

Sion of J J . -7 

mankind system; though only on condition that the cerebral material 1 
present in the required abundance. Let us use the handy, if scien 
tifically not quite correct, term “ peripheral system ” to denot 
everything which serves for the reception of irritants, and “ cen 
tral system ” for all that concerns the handling, regulation, am 
organization of such irritants. We shall then arrive at the follow 
ing threefold division of humanity. First come persons with ai 
abnormally irritable peripheral system of high capacity, but ai 
inadequate central system. These are productive, but incapable o 
living; as a class they include every description of person wh< 
suffers from any psychical inferiority, from the neurasthenic uf 
to the grievous paranoiac. Secondly, there are persons with ar. 
adequate central system, but a peripheral system of low capacity 

68 



These have vitality, but are not productive; they include the big 
battalions of the “ normal ” people: the peasant, the bourgeois, 
the honest craftsman, the capable official, and the plain scholar. 
Thirdly, we have the man of genius with an extremely irritable 
peripheral system and a proportionately hypertrophied central 
system; he is both vital and productive. Genius is, on this show¬ 
ing, nothing more than an organized neurosis, an intelligent form 
of madness. And thus we begin to understand why genius not only 
regularly displays pathological traits, but is notable for extraor¬ 
dinary brain power and particularly strong and delicate sense of 
moral values: for this surplus is essential. The same relations may 
even occasionally be noticed in highly gifted people such as the 
Hellenes: the Dionysiac was the peripheral system, the Apollinian 
the central system, of the collective genius, “ Greek genius.” 

The necessity of the Apollinian component in all creative 
genius is now generally admitted; it is less easy to convince people 
that the Dionysiac is of equal importance. A genius is not only a 
latent lunatic, but also a latent criminal, who only avoids con¬ 
flict with the law because his genius enables him to take refuge in 
production. “ I have never heard of a crime that I should be in¬ 
capable of committing,” said Goethe. For of such is the poet made: 
A crime that he could not commit would lie outside his powers of 
description. But he does not need to commit any crime: he can 
construct it artificially. Hebbel was making a deeper self-revela¬ 
tion than he knew, perhaps, when he wrote: “ By creating mur¬ 
derers Shakspere saved himself from the necessity of becoming 
one.” Hebbel’s dramas are full of bloodshed, and his diaries also 
show a surprising delight in murder stories of every description. 
Wherever he found one of these, he noted it down, studied it psy¬ 
chologically, and turned it about with an interest that was quite 
disproportionate to the actual case. It seems extremely probable 
too that Schiller was a really clever robber and Balzac an extor¬ 
tioner of the first water: only their literary talent was incompa¬ 
rably greater than their talent for robbery or extortion. All the 
creative artists — Dante and Michelangelo, Strindberg and Poe, 
Nietzsche and Dostoievski—what were they but cannibals res¬ 
cued by art? Then, the “monsters ” of world-history — Caligula 
and Tiberius, Danton and Robespierre, Caesar Borgia and Tor- 
quemada — what were they but artists cast adrift in reality ? And 

6q 


Pro 
as a 



would Nero, the emperor with a great artist’s ambition, ha\ 
come a bloodhound if he had possessed the artist’s form 
power? Qualis artifex pereo: which one may perhaps be pern: 
to translate: “ What an extraordinary kind of artist dies in i 
The “ irritable weakness ” is essential not only to the a 
but to the religious genius. A Buddha, a Paul, a Francis, mu 
quite peculiarly susceptible to irritation if he is to absorb al 
sorrow of others and give it forth again as his own, if he 
recognize his brothers in all creatures. The genius who de^ 
himself to research is in similar case. He has to have a patholo, 
flair for certain forces scattered over the universe which no 
else can share; otherwise he will discover nothing. The b 
periods of great religions always coincide with the ages of nati 
psychoses — the Orphic era in Greece, the centuries of e 
Christianity— and the same applies to those ages in which a 
world-picture matures. At these points it is a matter of real 
ease, for, as we have seen, the compensatory regulating system, 
protective intellectual superstructure, usually makes its app 
ance at a later stage. And this brings us back to our starting-pc 


70 



CHAPTER II 


THE MEDIAEVAL SOUL 

cf When t?ie world was still in darkness , the 
heavens were bright , and now that the world 
has become clear , the heavens are darkened” 

Johann Nestroy 

In the middle of the fourteenth century the millennial reign 
of faith, to which we give the collective name of the Middle Ages, 
became quite suddenly the Past. Its most representative creations 
— Scholasticism, Gothic architecture, erotic — the things which 
formed its glory and its life-essence, became shrivelled, parched, 
and calcified. This medium cevum, which for long was only a his¬ 
torian’s desperate expedient, a temporary bridge hastily knocked 
together to provide a passage from the old to the new age, has in 
fact a precision of contour which differentiates it sharply from the 
ages before and after it. The reason for this is to be found pr im arily 
in the fact that there was in it still an international culture, which 
in its essential features constituted a unity. 

Though not perhaps the most important of these features, the 
Romanticism, as we like to call it, of the Middle Ages is the most 
striking and the one most familiar to our consciousness. The con¬ 
ditions of that age come to us with a strange luminosity. Life 
was evidently a thing of sharper contrasts, of high-lights and deep 
shadows, and of fresh and rich complementary colours, while 
our own existence has more perspective, more half-tones, broken 
lights, and fine nuances. The great difference between them and 
ourselves resides partly in the fact that men lived less conscious of 
themselves and less critical. We see the men of the Middle Ages 
as gloomy, narrow, and credulous, and so far as the last is con¬ 
cerned, truly there was nothing they did not believe. They believed 
in every vision, legend, rumour, or poem; in true and false; in 
wise things and crazy things, saints and witches, God and the 
Devil. But, what is more, they believed in themselves. They saw 


71 



Life as 
adventure 


realities everywhere, even where there were none; everything 
real. And everywhere they saw the supreme reality, God: ev 
thing was of God. And over everything they succeeded in dr 
ing the magic veil of their own dreams and deliriums: everytl 
was beautiful. Hence the splendid optimism which neutrali 
their disregard of this world, their poverty, and their narrown 
He who believes in things is always full of joy and confidei 
The Middle Ages were not gloomy, they were bright. We are 
tirely helpless before a Milky Way that has been dissolved i 
atoms by rationalism, but we can do a very great deal wit] 
chubby angel and a club-footed devil in whom we believe whc 
heartedly. In short, the life of those times had, as compared w 
our own, much more the character of a painting, a puppet-shov 
fairy-tale, a mystery play — the character, in fact, of our chi 
hood’s life even now. It was, therefore, more sensible and impr 
sive, more exciting and interesting, and, in a sense, more real. 

There were outer factors, too, which added to the picturesqi 
ness of existence. First, the age lacked almost everything that t 
subsequent development of technology has done to ease and spe 
up existence. But every technical discovery is a piece of ratio 
alized life; the exploitation of steam in our peaceful, and the u 
of gunpowder in our warlike, undertakings, have brought wi 
them an impersonal element of order, uniformity, and mechaniz 
tion which was lacking to that earlier age. For mediaeval man w 
was still a picturesque form of activity, capable of firing his ir 
agination. If he did not go to war, he was bound to spend I 
life more or less in idleness: the active idleness of innumerat 
knights, beggars, and travelling players, or the scholarly idlene 
of the clergy—and in these, too, there was something poetic. Fu 
ther, nature was by no means so much in subjection to man, i 
domesticated, as today: she was still genuine nature — the “ Wil 
West,” glorious and terrible, an exquisite and a fearful myster; 
There were no books. Everything depended on the spoken trad 
tions. This alone must have fostered a free and imaginative trad: 
tion, even if the people had not believed and over-believed in th 
word as they did. (Even in our own enlightened days of univers* 
compulsory schooling, unprejudiced research, and scientific oul 
look on the world, we shall not find two persons to give iden 
tical reports of even the simplest daily event witnessed by then 

72 



bath.) In other domains, too, there was this absence of certainty. 
The modern conception of security was alien to the Middle Ages 
in every department of life. Every journey was as important an 
undertaking as, say, a serious medical operation today. Every step 
was leaguered with dangers, and might lead into an ambush: life 
was one great adventure. 

We might, indeed, call the Middle Ages the age of puberty for 
mid-European humanity, the thousand-year psychosis of adoles¬ 
cence in the form of a disguised sexuality, disguised as gynophobia 
in monastic orders, as lyricism in the Minnesanger cult, as algo¬ 
lagnia in Flagellantism, as hysteria in witchcraft, as swashbuck¬ 
ling in the Crusades. Now, the decisive character in the age of pu¬ 
berty is precisely that it turns almost everyone into a poet. And this 
poetic point of view is distinguished from the scientific and the 
practical by the fact that it views the world of natural phenomena 
symbolically. This enviable attitude was precisely that of the 
mediaeval soul, which saw a symbol in everything: in great things 
as in small, in thought and deed, in love and hatred, eating and 
drinking, giving birth and dying. Into every utensil that he cre¬ 
ated, every house that he built, every ditty that he sang, every 
ceremony that he practised, mediaeval man was able to put that 
deep symbolism which brings bliss because it is a spell both to 
bind and to loose. That is why he so universally and so easily 
absorbed the doctrines of Catholicism, which is nothing but a 
sense-appreciable system of purifying and elevating symbols of 
earthly things. 

It is typical of adolescence, again, that the spiritual palette of 
mediaeval man showed no transitional shades. The harshest col¬ 
ours lay side by side: the purplish red of anger, the gleaming 
white of love, and the sombre black of despair. Traits of the utmost 
delicacy and gentleness are flanked by deeds of unreflecting bru¬ 
tality, which would necessarily arouse our loathing did we not 
set them down as ebullitions of childish impulsiveness. Even the 
outward behaviour of these people was in many respects akin to 
that of children. Outbursts of tenderness were almost queerly fre¬ 
quent, embraces and kisses were exchanged on every conceivable 
pretext and often without any pretext. Tears flowed easily and 
abundantly. Gestures in general played a far greater part than 
nowadays in the economy of expression — they still, in fact, held 


73 



No rela¬ 
tion to 
money 


the primacy, and underlying every gesture was a deep symbolisi 
that was felt far more strongly and deeply than symbolisms are fc 
the men of later times. But side by side with this men had tl: 
honesty and forthrightness of children. They still stood in a 
elementary relation to nature, to field and forest, wind and clou< 
And there is something strangely affecting, too, in their passional 
love of animals, their wise, merry brothers, whom everywhere the 
honour — in sculpture and ornament, in satire and legend, a 
home and at court — who appear to them as like in kind to them 
selves, whom they regard even as full juridical persons liable to b 
brought up as witnesses and, for that matter, as criminals. One c 
the most charming stories handed down to us from the Middl 
Ages is that of a dog which gave its life for its master’s child am 
was worshipped as martyr and saint by the people. In the presenc 
of a world like this we have the sensation we so often experience ii 
our dealings with children, the feeling that they know somethin, 
which we do not know or no longer know, some magic secret o 
divine marvel wherein perhaps may lie the key to our whol 
existence. 

Another infantile trait is the vague attitude of mediaeval mai 
to money. Sombart expresses this very wisely and kindly in sayinj 
that men stand in much the same spiritual relation to economii 
activities as the child to his lessons. The meaning of this is two 
fold: that work is purely a matter of ambition, and that it is onl] 
performed when it is absolutely imperative. The mediaeval crafts’ 
man put good work and solidity above everything and had no con 
ception of trashy goods or mass production. He stood behind hii 
work in person and staked his honour on it like an artist. But h< 
could afford to be much lazier as well as more conscientious thai 
a present-day workman, and that for several reasons. In the firsl 
place, broadly speaking, needs were fewer; in the second, the} 
were much more easily satisfied, even in a non-working existence. 

-which was not impossible, since almsgiving was much mors 
widespread than now—and in the third, there would have beer 
little point in exceeding the normal income, as the individual’s 
standard of living was fairly well fixed, and such straining of in¬ 
comes as is seen today in every small provincial town did not occur, 
To every class was allotted, so to say, its due measure of comfort 
and enjoyment, and to change one’s class was practically impos- 

74 



sible in mediaeval society, where the various degrees of social con¬ 
dition were regarded, much as were the different genera of the ani¬ 
mal world, as divinely ordered realities. Mediaeval economy arose 
out of an agrarian society which rested on an almost communistic 
basis; but even in its later developments the equalitarian tendency 
appeared in the organizations which it evolved (the craftsmen’s 
and merchants’ guilds), or, if not equalization, at least an assimi¬ 
lation of its members: who earned in order to live, and did not 
live in order to earn. It has to be remembered also that throughout 
the Middle Ages, in which the Gospel was still taken seriously, 
there was always a more or less intense feeling that Mammon 
was a creature of the Devil — the taking of interest on money, for 
instance, always roused religious misgivings. And, finally, this 
young world was permeated with the wholesome sentiment that 
work was not a blessing, but a burden and a curse. Only think 
what a difference it must make to the whole fabric of feeling in a 
culture when money is not the supreme and universal divinity 
that commands the unprotesting sacrifices and directs the des¬ 
tinies of all! 

But, granted that these people were children, they were never¬ 
theless clever, gifted, mature children. The theory that they lived 
and worked in dull subj ection will not bear examination, at least 
so far as the high Middle Ages was concerned. Men were clear 
thinkers then, bright minds, master-artists in logic, virtuosi in the 
poetic presentation of concepts, architects endowed equally richly 
with powers of construction and of calculation; and they were 
possessed, in all the manifestations of their life, by an instinct for 
style which has never since been equalled. Equally indefensible is 
the theory that mankind in the Middle Ages consisted of nothing 
but types. Neither in the State and the Church nor in art and 
science was there any lack of sharply outlined, uninterchangeable 
personalities. The confessions of an Augustine or an Abelard 
reveal an almost uncanny capacity for introspection and self- 
analysis, such as is unimaginable without the premiss of a highly 
developed and nuanced individuality. The portrait-statues show 
strikingly individual figures and at the same time demonstrate the 
sculptors’ talent in seizing that non-recurrent individuality. As 
early as the tenth century Hroswitha, the nun, had developed the 
drama, that most individual of the arts, in almost all its branches 


75 



— history, prose, comedie larmoyante, and erotic tragedy —1< 
high stage of perfection, creating characters of such delicacy a 
transparency as positively to remind one of Maeterlinck. Inde 
the whole presumption of a “ typical ” man of the Middle Aj 
may possibly be the outcome of the fact that it was an eminen 
philosophic age. 

This requires a little explanation. The central idea of t 
Middle Ages, its hovering invisible motto, as it were, ran as f 
lows: “universalia sunt realia (It is only ideas that are real 
The great controversy on “ universal ” which ranged throu 
practically the whole of the Middle Ages is never concerned wi 
actual principles, but with their formulation. Of the three scho< 
which succeeded each other, extreme Realism maintained: Ui 
versalia sunt ante rem; that is, ideas come before concrete thin; 
both as to rank and as being the causes. Moderate Realism i 
gued: Universalia sunt in re; that is, ideas are inherent in thin 
as their true substance. And Nominalism posited the principl 
Universalia sunt post rem; that is, that universals are abstract 
from things as pure concepts of the reason. This last principle, 
actual fact, involved the dissolution of Realism, but, as we shi 
see, its beginning falls outside the real Middle Ages. 

Let us now consider what it must have meant to one’s gener 
world-picture when everything took off from the assumption th 
universals and conceptions, ideas, classes, were the genuine a 
tuality — it is the assumption which, as we know, the greatest 
Classical philosophers made the kernel of his system. But Pla 
only taught this theory, the Middle Ages lived it. Medieval h' 
manity forms a “universal” people in which climatic, nations 
local differences counted but as very secondary features. This pe 
pie stands under the nominal dominion of a universal king, 
Caesar, who indeed usually exercised no more than a theoretic 
rulership, but never gave up his claims; and under the actu 
dominion of a universal church — or, rather, two churches, bol 
of which claim to be universal: styling themselves one the un 
versal, the Catholic, and the other the only true, the Orthodo 
Further, as we have seen already, this universal people has 
universal economy which seeks to equalize as far as possible tl 
mode of life, the standard of wages, the production and consumi 
tion of the individual. It has a universal style: the Gothic, whic 

76 



inspires and controls every work of art, from the platter to the 
cathedral, from the door-nail to the royal palace. It has a universal 
code: the etiquette of chivalry, with rules of behaviour, modes of 
greeting, and social ideals which are recognized wherever 
Western man sets his foot. It has a universal science: theology, 
which is the summit, the meaning, and the guide-line of all 
thought. It has a universal ethic: the evangelical; a universal 
law: the Roman; and a universal language: the Latin. In sculp¬ 
ture it favours the ornamental; that is, the conceptual; in 
architecture, the abstract, the constructive. In general its reac¬ 
tion is anti-naturalistic; but that is not to be attributed to any 
want of technical ability—the portrait-statues sufficiently prove 
that. Naturalism, however, is the mark, never of an artistic 
climax, but either of a crude beginning or of a deliberate program¬ 
matic return to earlier stages. Even nature, for these mediaevals, 
was an abstraction, a vague and almost unactual idea, with prac¬ 
tically only a negative existence as foil to the realm of the spirit 
and of Grace. 

Thus was the mediaeval world built up, on a finely graded ta 
series of believed abstractions and lived ideas, rising in pure, clean 
lines like a cathedral or one of the elaborate “ Summce ” of the 
Schoolmen, with on the one hand the secular side, with its peas¬ 
ants and citizens, knights and vassals, counts and dukes, kings 
and emperors* and on the other the spiritual side, with its broad 
foundation of believers and its ascending scale of priests, 
abbots, bishops, popes, councils, leading finally to a ladder of 
angels, of whom the uppermost sit at the feet of God — a nobly 
imagined and well-ordered hierarchy of universals. Such a hu¬ 
manity could indeed take as its motto — and that in full philo¬ 
sophic consciousness of its import and not as a mere conceit 
of dialectical cleverness—the proposition “ Universalia sunt 
realia .” 

The reign of this principle, so alien to ordinary actuality, was ta 
prolonged, and indeed was made possible at all, by the mediaeval 
view of the world as a fact of belief and not as a scientific phe¬ 
nomenon. The spiritual guiding line remained essentially that of 
Anselm and of Augustine before him: neque enim quaro intel- 
ligere, ut credam, sed credo, ut intelligam (I do not seek to know 
in order to believe, but I believe in order to know) — “ for human 


* 7*7 



wisdom will break itself on the rock of faith ere it breaks tl 
rock.” The people of that day were free from the modern supers 
tion that it is the exclusive aim of human thought and research 
explore and control as exhaustively as possible the world of ex* 
rience. What did they seek to know ? Two things, Deumct anima 
“Deurn et animam” says Augustine with quite unmistakal 
decision, “ scire cupio. Nihilne plus? Nihil omnino.” Physics 
for him first and foremost that which teaches God; whatever el 
it may teach is immaterial, since it contributes nothing to salv 
tion. And three-quarters of a millennium after, at the peak of tl 
Middle Ages, Hugh de St. Victor makes the statement that know 
edge is only valuable in so far as it serves edification, that know 
edge for knowledge’ sake is pagan. Richard de St. Victor adc 
that reason is not the right instrument for ascertaining the trutl 
This can surprise us only if we fail to remember that precisely tl 
highest truths of Christianity are above reason, but not on the 
account contrary to reason. Thomas Aquinas, the classical ph: 
losopher of Catholicism, made this perfectly clear, and already i; 
Tertullian, on the very threshold of Church history, we find th 
famous sentences: “ Crucifixus est Dei Filius; non pudet, qui 
pudendum est. Et mortuus est Dei Filius; prorsus credibile est 
quia ineptum est. Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impos 
sibile est (The Son of God was crucified; that is not shameful, be 
cause it is shameful. And the Son of God died; that is credible 
because it is absurd. And he rose from the dead; that is quite cer¬ 
tain, because it is impossible).” We may, if we wish, see a childisl 
trait again here, for in fact children do see the most discrepant 
things as the most credible; the most impossible as the most cer¬ 
tain. They put much more faith in a fairy-tale than in a sober 
narrative and regard all phenomena which break away from the 
course of natural causality as not only higher, but more real. And 
mediaeval man’s physics was precisely of that order. To him it 
was the miracle that was reality, while the world of natural phe¬ 
nomena was but the pale reflection and insubstantial shadow of 
a higher, clearer, truer world of thought. In short, he led a magical 
existence. And again we have to ask ourselves whether in this 
matter he was not led by a deeper, if more obscure, knowledge, 

whether he did not come nearer to the root of the mystery 
than we ? 


<78 



Such delicate and hazardous speculations as phenomenalism, 
scepticism, agnosticism, were anything but unknown in the Middle 
Ages. In Augustine’s self-communings we find such passages as 
these: “ Tu, qui vis te nosse, sets esse te? Scio. Unde scis? Nescio. 
Simplicem te sentis an multiplicem? Nescio. Moveri te scis? 
Nescio. Cogitare te scis? Scio ” — exactly and unequivocally the 
same deduction as that with which Descartes opened a new era of 
human thought: “ Cogito ergo sum.” That bodies exist, we read 
in the Confessions, is known only by faith; but this faith is essen¬ 
tial for practice. In just this manner did Berkeley found his 
idealistic dogmatism at the beginning of the eighteenth century. 

But we need faith also, says Augustine, for knowing the wills of 
other men — here is a proposition that has the very ring of 
Schopenhauer. Even if there be no evil, he says elsewhere, there 
is undeniably the fear of evil—there is psychology of the most 
modern order. But the great difference between such speculations 
and the researches of the newer philosophy lies in this, that they 
rest, without exception, firmly and immovably on faith and that 
they proceed from faith, whereas the epistemology of modern times 
finds at best only a final outlet in faith. One may well doubt if 
anyone soever in the Middle Ages impugned the elementary con¬ 
ception of the Creation as a single great act of saving, and the 
world as a phenomenon of belief. They had, in fact, a complete 
comprehension of the doctrine of Jesus, with its kernel in the 
solemn and unambiguous exhortation to believe; not to doubt that 
this world exists and is a work of God, that all things exist, even 
the meanest and lowest — poor and simple, children, sinners, 
lilies, and sparrows — if we only believe in them, or, which is the 
same thing, love them. 

The picture that the Middle Ages offer us, then, is full of con- T/ 
tradictions. Seen in one aspect, it has a look of blessed repose, of 
a majestic noonday stillness which illumines and protectingly em¬ 
braces all living things; in another aspect we have the spectacle of 
a splendid discontent, of deep internal rendings and stirrings. No 
doubt everything lived and moved in God and felt itself enveloped 
in God; but how to satisfy Him? That was the dread question 
which trembled everywhere under the serene and peaceful surface 
of existence. The mediseval soul lies before us, therefore, as a clear, 
silvery pool, but at the bottom there is agitation: a perpetual 


*7C\ 



seeking without finding; a brewing, a bubbling, a reaching i 
fumbling. Spires rear themselves to heaven, asymptotes in sto 
striving to lose themselves in the blue depths of the firmame 
insatiable in the erotic yearning that was their most fundamen 
and original discovery or invention, the love that so hypostasi 
its object that this becomes unattainable and is reduced tc 
symbol of infinite longing. And above it all rises the figure 
Christ, the incomparable and yet the exemplar whom man 1 
solemnly been bound, by baptism, to copy in his life. 

By the middle of the fourteenth century there appears on t 
stage an entirely different kind of humanity, or, rather, one whi 
contains the germ of another kind. There is still seeking, but al 
finding; still agitation, but no longer only in the depths. A tra| 
culture is making way for a bourgeois culture, a chaotic for < 
organic, finally even for a mechanical one. The world is thenc 
forward no God-inspired mystery, but a man-made rationality. 


80 



CHAPTER III 


THE INCUBATION PERIOD 

t( Go your imperceptible <ways y everlasting 
Providence , only do not let me despair of 
you through this bnperceptibibty. Do not let 
me despair of you even though your steps 
should seem to me to lead backward! It is not 
true that the straight line is always the 
shortestP 

Lessing 

To apply the name “ incubation period ” to the development 
phase in which the man of the modern age was being prepared, 
rather suggests that the new thing that was being brought into the 
world was a poison. And so it was, as we shall see. Yet it was only 
a partial poison, for on this globe of ours beneficial and pernicious 
influences operate in an intermixture; and, moreover, as we have 
tried to show in our first chapter, poison is often the form behind 
which the renewing, enriching, and perfecting process of organic 
being chooses to hide. If, by introducing elements which appear 
to be hostile, harmful, and essentially alien, we are able to produce 
double flowers in plants and new heads in animals, why should 
not the same treatment have similar results in whole eras, giving 
us new heads and more assertive, fuller, and richer forms of life? 
Be that as it may, we do not, for the present, intend to imply by 
the label “ incubation period ” any judgment of values, negative 
or positive. It simply denotes that century and a half in which 
the New grew and matured in humanity’s womb until such time 
as its strength and stature fitted it to face the light. 

As I said, the hour in which the new age was bom is marked 
by a heavy sickness of European humanity—the Black Death. 
It is not, however, suggested that the Black Death brought about 
the new age. On the contrary, the new age — modernity came 
first and it was through it that the Plague happened. Says Troels- 
Lund, in his very suggestive book Gesundheit und Krankheit in 



der Anschaining alter Zeiten: “ It is not improbable that ill 
have a history of their own; so that each age has its particu. 
nesses, which had not occurred just so before and will never 
just so again.” The only explanation for this, obviously, nr 
that every age makes its own illnesses, which are just as in 
part of its physiognomy as everything else that it produces 
as much its specific creations as its art, its strategy, its religic 
physics, its economy, its erotic, and all its other manifesta' 
They are, so to say, its inventions and discoveries in the p 
logical domain. It is the spirit which builds itself a body: al 
the spirit is the prime mover, both in the individual and ii 
mass. If we are prepared to stand by this comparison — ac 
tedly a lame one in more than one respect — with the indivi* 
we shall have to say: the Black Death is no more the cam 
modernity than pregnancy is the cause of a new organism; f( 
the one case as in the other the true cause lies in the entry 
new life-germ into the mother-body, and the result and expres 
of this fact constitutes pregnancy. The “ new spirit ” generat 
sort of development-sickness in European humanity, a gen 
psychosis; and one—the most prominent — of the forms of 
sickness was the Black Death. But whence this new spirit c, 
and why it arose just then and there, no one knows. The Weltg 
will not disclose that secret. 

Neither has any one unravelled the immediate circumstar. 
under which the Plague, known generally as the Black De 
or the Great Death, suddenly gripped Europe. Some maint 
that it slipped in in the train of the Crusades, but if so, it is straj 
that it should never have been even approximately so terri 
among the Arabs as it was with us. Others have put its place 
origin as far away as China. Contemporary opinion laid the 
sponsibility on the constellations, the prevailing wickedness, 1 
unchastity of the priests, and the Jews. There it was, anyhow 
and suddenly, first in Italy, then slinking over the whole Cc 
tinent. Part of its uncanniness lay precisely in this slow a: 
steady progress from house to house and from land to land, whi 
was so unlike the raging of most other epidemics. It took posse 
sion of Germany, Franee, England, Spain, and finally the nort 
erly countries right up to Iceland. What made it still more horrib 
was its incalculable behaviour. At times it spared whole stretch 

82 



of country, as, for instance, eastern Franconia, and skipped in¬ 
dividual houses; or it would disappear all of a sudden and re¬ 
appear after years. Right into the middle of the fifteenth century 
we read in the chronicles: “ Plague in Bohemia,” “ The Great 
Death on the Rhine,” “ Plague in Prussia,” “ Death in the coun¬ 
try,” “ Year of general death,” “ Ten thousand die in Nuremberg,” 
“ Plague throughout Germany, strong men die, few women, more 
rarely children,” “ Great pestilence in the coast towns.” It appears 
to have been a form of bubonic plague, manifesting itself in swell¬ 
ing of the lymphatic glands (the so-called plague-boils), violent 
headache, great weakness, and apathy, though also in some cases 
delirium. According to contemporary reports, death occurred on 
the first or second, or at latest the seventh, day. The mortality was 
terrific everywhere. While it was at its height, we hear of sixty 
deaths daily in Berne, a hundred in Cologne and in Mainz, a total 
of thirteen thousand at Elbing. Two-thirds of the students at 
Oxford died, and three-fifths of the Yorkshire clergy. When the 
Minorites counted their dead at the end of two years of plague, 
these amounted to over a hundred and twenty thousand. Europe’s 
total losses, according to recent calculation, amounted to twenty 
millions. The men of the day found it easier to count the survivors 
than those who had perished. 

With the Plague came another movement. The Flagellant 
monks, in exaltation, went about in great swarms from place to 
place, waving flags and singing mournful songs, dressed in black 
cloaks and repulsive caps, with a gleaming red cross before them. 
Their appearance in a town was the signal for all bells to ring, and 
all the people flocked to church. The Flagellants then flung them¬ 
selves down, scourging, singing, and praying for hours together, 
reading out letters that were said to have fallen from heaven, 
which condemned the sinful ways of laity and clergy and exhorted 
them to repent. Their doctrine, if such it can be called, was un¬ 
doubtedly heretical. They taught that flagellation was the true 
communion, in that their own blood became mingled with the 
Saviour’s. Priests were unworthy and superfluous, and their pres¬ 
ence was not tolerated at their devotional exercises. The effect on 
a terrified humanity that felt the Church and the world to be fall¬ 
ing about its ears was immense. Gradually, however, the ranks of 
the Flagellants came to be reinforced by various unclean elements, 



The 

fois oners 


such as adventurers, social outcasts, beggars, Manichccs, and 
verts. What unspeakable emotions, compounded of hope and i 
disgust and awe, must have seized the people at the advance of 
of these ghastly processions of fanatics, lunatics, and crimir 
whose coming was heralded from afar by their ghastly and 
notonous chanting: “ Lift ye up your hands and pray, God i 
turn this pest away. Lift ye up your arms, implore Him to veil 
face no more! Jesus, through Thy name of Three, From our : 
nb set us free! Let us by Thy blood so red From the Death 


rescued! ” 

These Flagellant bands were not, however, simply a p 
nomenon arising out of the Plague, a mere attempt at a sort of 
ligious therapy. It is highly probable that what they repres 
is a parallel epidemic or further symptom of the general psycho 
the Plague being only an external point on which it seized. In S' 
port of this theory we have the fact that widespread mental c 
orders made their appearance at that time quite independen 
of the Plague. A whole year before, men and women were to 
seen dancing hand in hand in circles by the hour, working the 
selves up to a pitch at which they foamed at the mouth and sa 
down half fainting. During the dance they had epileptic fits a 
visions. It was the now familiar St. Vitus’s dance, which quid 
spread to wider circles, taking on more and more of a sexual ch 
acter as it developed and finally becoming a sort of fashion, 
that vagabonds could make a living by imitating the sympton 
In the same order of phenomena was the extraordinary Crusa 
of the Children of Schwabisch-Hall in Germany, when as the i 
suit of a religious hypnosis a band of children set out to 
homage to the archangel Michael at St. Michael’s Mount in Nc 
mandy. The fixation of this idea was so strong that those amo; 
them who were forcibly kept back became seriously ill and 
some cases died. 

The contemporary persecutions of the Jews also had a path 
logical and epidemic character, though it cannot be said that tl 
was a phenomenon which might not have taken place at any oth 
time. The rumour, which sprang up suddenly in southern Franc 
that the Jews had poisoned the wells, spread faster than the plagi 
into the adjoining countries. It led to a horrible slaughter of tl 
Jews, in which the Flagellants formed the shock-troops and tl 




Jews displayed that blind heroism which appears throughout their 
whole history from the days of Nebuchadnezzar and Titus down 
to the Russian pogroms. Mothers who saw their husbands burnt 
at the stake flung themselves with their children into the flames 
At Esslingen the whole Jewish community assembled in the syna¬ 
gogue and deliberately set fire to it. At Constance a Jew, who had 
been baptized to escape death by burning, was afterwards seized 
with remorse and burnt himself and his whole family in his own 
house. The Jewish persecutions were primarily religious in char¬ 
acter, but there were, no doubt, social causes as well. The attitude 
of the world towards the Jewish question in those days was am¬ 
biguous. Both the spiritual and the temporal powers tolerated the 
Jews, and indeed extended to them a certain amount of protection. 
In fact, they could not readily do without them, not only because 
of their special talent for economic affairs (which, be it noted was 
a far greater asset then than now), but because of their higher edu¬ 
cation. The courts appreciated them as transmitters of Arabian 
culture and, still more, as physicians. Above all, they were fruit¬ 
ful and tractable objects of taxation. Among the sources of in¬ 
come allotted to the various feudal lords as privileges the Jews 
always figure in the list side by side with the right of coining, toll 
money, salt-mines, and the like. But the people never forgot that 
it was the Jews who killed the Saviour, and when here and there 
a gentle-minded preacher tried to point out that it was not right 
to visit the guilt of this upon the rest of the race for ever, it was 
easy to reply with the further argument that the Jews still con¬ 
tinued to deny the Gospel and even fought it by secret means. 
That the smallest, weakest, and most scattered of all the civilized 
nations of the West should be the only one to hold obstinately 
aloof from the light of Christianity was a fact — a stupendous fact 
— which, psychoanalytically, the people of that time could not get 
over. Matters were made worse by the really hard oppression prac¬ 
tised by Jewish extortioners. The Jews were the only people whose 
religion permitted the taking of interest, and in their eyes it might 
appear even meritorious to inflict the utmost damages on the un¬ 
believing “ Goy” In addition, all other callings were closed to 
them, for naturally none but Christians were admitted to the 
guilds. Thus it came about that not a few of these persecutors 
were less concerned with burning Jews than with burning bonds. 

85 



Cosmic dis¬ 
turbance 


World- 

downfall 


Dethrone¬ 
ment of 
Umversals 


“ Their possessions,” says a contemporary chronicler, “ were the 
poison which killed them.” 

Not only humanity, but heaven and earth, too, were convulsed 
in those days. Ominous comets appeared. In England storms raged 
with a fury unknown before or since. Gigantic swarms of locusts 
descended on the fields. Earthquakes ravaged the country — Vil- 
lach was destroyed along with thirty villages around it. The earth 
seemed to become barren, and blight and drought caused the 
crops to fail everywhere. These phenomena may not be just dis¬ 
missed as “ accidental freaks of nature ” nor yet as “ superstitious 
popular imaginings.” If it be true that at that time humanity was 
shaken by a great jerk, a mysterious upheaval, a profound shud¬ 
der of conception, then the earth must have had some similar 
experience; and not the earth only, but the neighbouring planets, 
nay, the whole solar system. The signs and wonders witnessed 
by that “ limited and credulous ” age were real signs, distinct 
manifestations of a wondrous concatenation of cosmic happening. 

Man, at any rate, distraught by so many calamities and con¬ 
tradictions in his present and future, rushed about in terror, 
straining his eyes for something firm. Serious people took refuge 
entirely in their God or their Church, fasting, praying, and do¬ 
ing penance. The frivolous flung themselves into a life of unre¬ 
strained worldliness, opening all the valves to vice and greed and 
making of life the fattest hangman’s breakfast possible. Many 
thought the Day of Judgment was at hand. And in all this — 
in the pessimistic and ascetic currents as in the unwholesome, 
bloated merrymaking, which was merely a sort of consumptive’s 
sensuality or “ tomorrow we die ” recklessness — there was a 
general feeling of the world’s end which, expressed or unexpressed, 
conscious or unconscious, permeated and dominated the whole era. 
And men’s instinct was perfectly right; the world did really come 
to an end. The world that had been, that strange world of the 
Middle Ages, so limited and so luminous, pure and depraved, 
soaring and fettered, foundered in misery and thunder into the 
depths of time and eternity, never to return. 

The fundamental principle on which the mediseval world- 
outlook rested was: the realities are the universal. What is real 
is, not the individual, but the estate to which he belongs. Not the 
particular priest was real, but the Catholic Church, whose gifts 

86 



of grace he distributed; even if he were a rake, a liar, or a de¬ 
bauchee, the sacredness of his office was not affected thereby, since 
he had no reality. Not the knight who tilted in the tournament, 
wooed his lady with song, or fought in the Holy Land was real, 
but the great ideal of the knightly order which embraced and 
exalted him. Not the artist who made poems in stone and glass 
was real, but the lofty cathedral which he, a nameless one of 
many, created. Not even the thoughts which the human mind 
evolves in solitary wrestling were real, but only the everlasting 
truths of the faith, and the business of that mind was simply to 
arrange, justify, and expound. 

At the end of the Middle Ages all these conceptions began to 
waver and become fluid, and finally they turned into their exact 
opposites. The great John Duns (surnamed Scotus on account 
of his origin and doctor subtilis on account of his powers of hair¬ 
splitting), the head of the Scotists, who died at the age of thirty- 
four in 1308, was still a moderate Realist. He held that all science 
must break down if universals, which were the aim and end of all 
scientific knowing, consisted of mere concepts of the reason. He 
explained, however, that Reality was in the relation of indifference 
to the general and the particular alike and could, therefore, in¬ 
corporate both; and elsewhere he went so far as to admit that 
individuality was not a defective but a more complete reality, in 
fact the ultima realitas. The Franciscan Pierre Aureol, who wrote 
somewhat later and has remained obscure, was clearly a con- 
ceptualist; he declared universals to be mere conceptions (con- 
cep tus), abstracted from individual things and having no exist¬ 
ence in nature; the only part of Socrates that was real being the 
Socratitas, not the humanitas. But the real founder of Nominal¬ 
ism and the most famous of Duns Scotus’s pupils, William of 
Occam (the doctor singularis, venerabilis inceptor, and doctor 
invincibilis ), who died in the year of the Black Death, went much 
further. He too began by arguing that the universal was a mere 
conceptus mentis , significans univoce plura singularia, and that it 
did not exist in things, but only in the reasoning mind; and that it 
did not follow, merely because we know by the aid of universal con¬ 
cepts, that the universal possesses reality. From this he then pro¬ 
ceeded to a complete phenomenalism. Duns Scotus had still seen 
in concepts actual copies of things, but with Occam they became 

87 



merely signs ( signa) which were called forth m us by means 
of things, put by us in relation to things, and not necessarily even 
resembling those things, any more than smoke as a sign of fire re¬ 
sembles fire in any way, or sighs as a sign of pain resemble pain in 
any way. In the further course of his deductions Occam arrived 
at a peculiar type of indeterminism. God, he argued, is bound by 
no laws. Nothing happens of necessity, for otherwise the facts of 
chance and of evil in the world would be inexplicable. God was 
not obliged to create this particular world, He might have created 
a perfectly different one — or none at all. There are, therefore, no 
universally valid ethical forms: God might just as easily have de¬ 
clared unkind and selfish deeds to be meritorious. The Decalogue 
was not an absolute code of morals, it had only a qualified valid¬ 
ity. It forbade murder, theft, and polygamy; but Abraham was 
prepared to sacrifice his son, the Israelites carried off the golden 
vessels of the Egyptians, and the patriarchs allowed themselves a 
number of wives — and God approved. These arguments, orig¬ 
inating in part from Occam and in part from Duns Scotus, could 
have but one meaning — that God is beyond good and evil. But 
the crown of Occamist philosophy is its profession of irrational¬ 
ism and agnosticism. All knowing that goes beyond the immediate 
experience of the moment is a matter of faith. God is unknowable, 
His existence does not follow as a consequence of the conception 
of Him. The existence of a first cause cannot be proved, there 
mi ght have been an infinite series of causes. Several worlds with 
different creators are conceivable; the Trinity, the Incarnation, 
or the soul’s immortality can never form the subject of logical 
demonstration. 

c/mst It would be a serious mistake, however, to conclude from the 

ionkey f ore g 0 i n § that Occam was a free-thinker, a sort of forerunner of 
Voltaire or Nietzsche. He was undoubtedly an energetic supporter 
of the Modernists of that day, who fought against the exclusive 
power of the Pope and for the independence of emperor and 
bishops, but at the same time he was strictly orthodox. His scep¬ 
tical-critical subtleties were simply the powerful expressions of 
his religiousness. The thought of the unlimited divine despotism 
was soothing rather than irritating to him. His submissiveness 
would not be satisfied if he imagined any limitations, even those 
of causality and moral, to God’s omnipotence, and by emphasizing 

sc 



the impossibility of proving the Christian mysteries he put them 
out of reach of attack and doubt once and for all. Faith became 
a virtue only when the incomprehensibility, and, indeed, the sense¬ 
lessness, of ecclesiastical doctrine had been realized. It was through 
him that the principle “ Credo quia absurdum ” was endowed with 
the strength and spirituality to make its last and finest rally. He 
laid the emphasis entirely on the “ Credo ”: it was just the fact 
that faith and knowledge were two separate things which made the 
preservation of faith possible. But how if, one fine day, it occurred 
to someone to lay the emphasis on “ absurdum ” and so arrive at 
the conclusion that this fact of faith and knowledge being two 
different things annihilates faith and saves knowledge? — A shal¬ 
low notion, but an extremely dangerous one. To Occam this pos¬ 
sibility of shifting the accent does not seem to have occurred. In¬ 
stead, with tireless energy he dragged up all possible absurdities 
so that he might combine them with faith. One of his propositions, 
which strikes us as a fearful blasphemy, though it gave not the 
smallest offence at the time, was: If God had pleased, He might 
just as well have embodied Himself in a donkey as in a man. 

This instance — one of many — shows clearly how with 
Occam the principle of absurdity overshot itself, rebounded, and 
finally turned against itself, and how entirely opposed it was to 
the naively credulous faith in miracles of the Middle Ages. Quite 
without Occam’s knowledge or intention it changes the punctua¬ 
tion, so to say, and reappears all at once with the opposite sign. 
The principle, under Occam’s excessive forcing, is strained to 
breaking. So sharp a point as he put on to it was bound to break. 
But there was nothing unconscious or unintended about his Nom¬ 
inalism. The work of five hundred years of Scholasticism issued in 
one sentence that killed it: Universals were not real; they were 
neither ante rem nor in re, but ■post rem and even pro re .* mere 
representative signs and vague symbols of things, vocalia, termini, 
flatus vocis, nothing but artificial aids to easier comprehension 
and at bottom verbiage without content — Universalia sunt 
nomina. 

The triumph of Nominalism is the most weighty fact in mod¬ 
ern history—much more important than the Reformation, gun¬ 
powder, and printing. It turned the mediaeval world-picture back 
to front and the existing system of the universe upside-down. 

8q 



The two 
faces of 
Nominalism 


Twilight 


Folie 

circulaire 


Everything else was merely the effect and consequence of this new 
aspect. 

Nominalism has a double face, and the side which we see de¬ 
pends upon whether we place its centre of gravity on its negative 
or its positive result. In its negative aspect it denied the reality of 
universals, of collective concepts, and of superior ideas — all the 
great vital forces which formerly had dominated, filled, and sus¬ 
tained existence — and is, therefore, on that side identical with 
scepticism and nihilism. In its positive aspect it affirmed the real¬ 
ity of singulars, discrete concepts, momentary bodily sensations — 
all those forces of orientation which control the life of the senses 
and the practice of everyday actuality — and was identical with 
sensualism and materialism. We shall now examine more clearly 
the effect which these two new dominants exercised in the life of 
that time. 

It was as if humanity had suddenly lost its static organ — a 
fundamental characteristic, this, of all periods of growth and 
transition. The old values count no longer, the new not yet. The 
feeling is that of a Northern night, when yesterday’s light still 
floats dimly on the far horizon, and the dawn is but a pale glimmer. 
The soul was entirely in a twilight stage, wherein everything had 
its double meaning. The world’s lineaments could no longer be in¬ 
terpreted. Or, to put it in another way, men were like a reader 
when evening sets in: it is too dark to read by the sun’s light and 
too light to read by the lamp. And this parallel, as we shall see, 
takes on a very special secondary meaning when applied to the 
beginning of the new age, when men had lost the art of reading 
the book of the world in the natural light of God and were not yet 

able to do so by the artificial light of Reason which they themselves 
were about to kindle. 

The immediate result of this complete disorientation was pro¬ 
found ‘pessimism. Because men were compelled to despair of the 
forces of the past, they had to despair of all other forces as well. 
Because the old securities had failed, it was felt that there were 
none at all. The second result was a certain intellectual atomism. 

1 he imaginative powers had no centre of gravitation, of crystalli¬ 
zation, around which to order themselves in a system; they be¬ 
came centrifugal, they dissolved. And because of this lack of a 
commanding central idea, the will-power of humanity was with- 


nn 



out directives, a condition which may equally well find expres¬ 
sion in aboulia as in hyperboulia, in obstructive as in discharg¬ 
ing neuroses. Men fell alternately into extreme depression and 
lethargy, melancholia and inertia, or into the maniacal stages 
of a pathological restlessness, the disease described in psychiatry 
as folie circulaire. Lastly, it was inevitable that the lack of fixed 
points should also lead to perversity in every direction. In lines, 
colours, costume, manners, modes of thought, art forms, legal 
standards, men came to prefer the bizarre, affected, obscure, dis¬ 
torted, disharmonious, stinging, spicy, or abstruse. There was 
a logic of the absurd, a physics of the abnormal, an ethic of the 
immoral, and an aesthetic of the ugly. As in an earthquake, the 
standards and guide-lines of the entire normal practice of life 
.— earthly, legal, and moral — collapsed. 

Everything tottered. The two co-ordinates on which the whole 
of mediaeval life was oriented — the Empire and the Papacy — 
began to lose their distinctness and became at times almost in¬ 
visible. In the first half of the fourteenth century the Empire wit¬ 
nessed the strange farce of a common double-government by Louis 
of Bavaria and Frederick of Austria, and by the year 1410 there 
were three German kings, Sigismund, Wenzel, and Jost of Mo¬ 
ravia. At almost the same time, in 1409, the world witnessed the 
extraordinary spectacle of three popes appearing simultaneously: 
one Roman, one French, and one chosen by the Council. For the 
people of those days this was very much as if they had suddenly 
had three Saviours sprung upon them, or as if every man had been 
told that he had three fathers. And as both emperors and popes 
denounced each other as being usurpers, godless fellows, and de¬ 
ceivers, it was easy to regard them as such, the whole lot of them, 
and, what was more, to see in their office no divine dispensation, 
not a God-appointed but a manoeuvred dignity; not the summit 
of spiritual and temporal grandeur, but a lie-bom fraud. As 
Nathan said: “Your three rings are none of them genuine. The 
real one must have been lost.” The possibility that a real schism 
could occur at all was sufficient to make the Papacy-idea rootless 
and bloodless. 

Here, then, we have a case of dissolution first attacking the 
head, of anarchy at the summit of the social scale. But it did 
not take long to spread downwards into all the strata. A general 


nT 



stampede is the social hall-mark of the age. Vassals did military 
service only when they felt inclined or when there was the pros¬ 
pect of personal advantage. The much-praised fealty of the Mid¬ 
dle Ages was transformed into a cool, business-like relationship, 
which was governed by opportunism rather than by piety. Vas¬ 
sals became detached from the glebe to which they had been so 
closely bound in their almost plantlike existence. In the towns the 
patriciate, ruling by reason of birth and tradition, secure in their 
position, had gradually become slack and corrupt, and, as they 
sank like dregs to the bottom, new forces, unhampered by preju¬ 
dices or the past, rose upward from the depths. Presently it was 
the turn of the declassed and the disinherited, the toilers and the 
heavy-laden, who pushed up behind them with communistic 
programs of all sorts, which then still had a Christian colouring. 
Class-sacredness ceased to exist. Contemporary literature has 
given us a vivid picture of the poisonous mockery and measure¬ 
less scorn that were the weapons of both sides in the war of the 
classes. Both in Shrovetide plays and in the last pale echoes of the 
knightly epic the peasant is jeered at as a coarse half-wit, a sort 
of village idiot; but the peasant had his revenge in his tales of Till 
Eulenspiegel, juicy vulgarities in which the boor shams stupidity 
only in order the better to shame and to kick the townsman. The 
demoralization of the nobility, again, was a permanent theme 
with writers of the period, and the immorality of the clergy was 
riddled with the devastating satire of Reineke Fuchs. But, for all 
the contempt and abuse showered upon the hated estates, no one 
Was content to stay in his own class. The mediaeval principle that a 
man’s class was born with him like his skin had long ceased to have 
any meaning. It was the peasant’s ambition to be a townsman in 
fine clothes, a townsman’s to be a knight in armour; clod-hoppers 
challenged each other to absurd duels, craftsmen’s guilds started 
feuds with one another, while the knight for his part cast envious 
eyes on the bourgeois and his comfortable existence. The fate of 
that folly which scorns its natural place and covets that of its 
neighbour is demonstrated with overpowering realism in Meier 
Helmbrecht, the story of a rich farmer’s son who is set on be¬ 
coming a knight at any cost and comes to a miserable end in 
consequence. This novel tells of something else, too; it shows t h at 
the sacred bond of the family no longer existed. Son and daugh- 



ter speak of their parents in language which would be repellent 
even in our own day. And the process of emancipation and these 
loosenings and underminings nowhere worked themselves out in 
quiet and slow evolution. On the contrary, the age is one immense 
battlefield, full of unceasing strife, inward and outward, open 
and underground — struggle of councils against popes, of popes 
against emperors, of emperors against princes, of princes against 
patricians, of patricians against guilds, of guilds against priests, 
and of everyone against everyone else. 

In the face of such a catastrophic collapse of all values, such 
a radical loosening of all bonds, only two attitudes were possible: 
the totally uncritical, that of blind prostration before destiny — 
in a word, fatalism,; or the hypercritical, which denies every sort 
of necessity and may be called subjectivism. The Scotists adopted 
the first of these. Turning on the Thomists, who had maintained 
that everything reasonable was willed by God, they asserted that 
everything God willed was reasonable. It was wrong to say that 
God did a thing because it was good; the fact was that the thing 
was good because God did it. The most subjective point of view 
was that held by the “Free-minded Brethren,” the “itinerant 
Beghards,” undisciplined hordes who carried on their mission in 
the Rhine lands and elsewhere, living by begging or, rather, by 
extortion and robbery — which they j ustified on the ground that 
private possessions were sinful. They spread the doctrine by ser¬ 
mons and writings and also by discussions, in which they de¬ 
veloped great shrewdness and readiness of repartee. Their verbal 
arrows made them famed and feared. Their main tenets were: 
There is no God above the world. Man is God. Since man is like 
God, there is no need for intermediaries. A good man’s blood was 
as venerable as the blood of Christ. The moral was that which the 
Brethren and Sisters declared to be moral. Freedom knows no 
rule and, therefore, no sin. For the “ mind,” there are no such 
things as theft or fornication. The kingdom of God and true 
blessedness are on earth, and therein consists true religion. In 
short the Ego, purely self-regarding and unburdened with scru¬ 
ples of any kind, is the true Christ. 

Both standpoints were nihilistic. Scotism laid such emphasis 
on the omnipotence and sole reality of God as to extinguish the 
individual; the intellectualist Beghard laid such emphasis on the 


93 



"Practical 

nihilism 


omnipotence and sole reality of the individual as to extinguish 
God. At first glance it appears that Scotism was the acme of re¬ 
ligiousness, but on closer consideration one realizes that it was 
based not on supreme confidence in divine reason, but on a pro¬ 
found despair of human reason. Thus in reality the one doctrine 
discloses the same exaltation of feeling and the same weakening 
of the metaphysical organ as the other. Extreme heat and ex¬ 
treme cold usually engender similar physiological results, and the 
theorems which proceed from these two polar world-outlooks are 
often similar, even to the point of becoming confused with one 
another. As we have seen in the case of Occam, many of the utter¬ 
ances of the dying Scholasticism are distinguishable from utter 
blasphemy only by their intention. 

In the beginning of the fifteenth century we see the nihilism of 
the age becoming actual and practical in the Hussite movement, 
when for the first time the idealistic urge to destroy of Slavism ap¬ 
pears on the scene of European history. Stung to superhuman 
efforts by the short-sighted, cruel, and treacherous policy of their 
opponents, the Czech armies performed feats which were the terror 
and the marvel of the age. They invented a wholly modern form 
of tactics which proved itself irresistible, and, fired by their three¬ 
fold religious, national, and social enthusiasm, they overran every¬ 
thing that stood in their way. The wild Hussite torrent soon 
poured over its native boundaries and flooded half Germany, 
raging everywhere with a senseless vandalism which destroyed for 
the sake of destroying, without motive either of gain or of revenge. 
It was the blind, helpless hatred of Slavism for reality, the quality 
which alone explains why the Russians endured Tsarism for cen¬ 
turies and will possibly endure Soviet rule for centuries more. 

The situation in which the soul found itself in those days is 
summed up in Petrarch’s description of the conditions prevailing 
at the Papal court of Avignon: “ Everything good has gone to 
pieces there: first liberty, then peace, joy, hope, faith, and love. 
Immense losses to the soul! But in the realm of avarice this is ac¬ 
counted no loss, as long as the revenues do not diminish. There 
the future life is counted as a fable. All that is said about hell, the 
resurrection of the body, the Day of Judgment, the Crucifixion — 
all, all are fables and mere idiocies. Truth is heM to be madness 
there, abstinence absurd, shame shameful, sins of incontinence 


94 



as proofs of broad-mindedness. The more stained a life is, the 
higher it is esteemed, and fame increases by crime.” 

But it is time now to fix our eyes on the positive features of 
the age also. These, as has been already indicated, expressed them¬ 
selves in the direction of materialism. It was a time of extraor¬ 
dinary economic progress, both internal and external. Production 
was becoming rationalized and refined, and trading was increasing 
both in scope and in profitableness. The question now is this — 
was this increasingly vigorous, raging, and acquisitive materialism 
a result of the intensification of economic life or vice versa? The 
reader will by now be in no doubt that for us the only acceptable 
hypothesis is the second. First there came into being a definite and 
particular constitution of mind, a disposition, and out of this pro¬ 
ceeded a definite phase of development of the economic setting. 
If a man focuses interest chiefly on the invisible inner-world of 
his intellect and natural feeling, or on the mysterious over-world 
of God and the beyond, he will produce strong and creative work 
in the fields of faith, thought, and art, but his economic existence 
will remain monotonous and primitive. If, on the other hand, he 
directs the full force of his attention more keenly on the tangible, 
visible, tastable world around him, it is perfectly inevitable that 
he should attain to a higher economic florescence, inventing new 
tools and new technical methods, discovering new sources of 
wealth, bringing new forms of comfort and enj oyment into exist¬ 
ence, and making himself the master of matter. 

In economic history we read a great deal about “ contributory 
circumstances ” and “ favourable conditions.” But the circum¬ 
stances and conditions are always there, it is only that they are 
differently exploited in different ages. And even if they were not 
there, the economic will, if it were only sufficiently powerful, would 
conjure them up out of nothing and forcibly shape every condi¬ 
tion into a “favourable” one and every circumstance into a 
“ contributory ” one. 

As a result of the rapid decay of Byzantium, Levantine trade 
— the most important for Europe — had gradually left the old 
Danube route and taken to the sea. In the fourteenth century we 
find in Italy a series of truly royal town-republics, at the head of 
which stood Venice with her unlimited sway over the eastern Medi¬ 
terranean basin. She had established her position permanently 

95 



(in the manner of England today) by taking possession of a 
number of important points duppui Dalmatia, Corfu, Crete, 
and Cyprus. In the North Sea and the Baltic there reigned, with 
nearly as absolute a supremacy, the Hanse, that curious merchant- 
organization which — existing purely on the basis of private 
agreements, with no territorial sovereign as its champion, and 
needing to draw the sword only on rare occasions — exercised for 
a century and. a half supreme commercial dictatorship over vast 
stretches of land and water. And between these two giant powers 
of North and South a whole crowd of smaller, though by no means 
unimportant, centres of commerce developed. From upper Italy 
a busy route ran along the Rhine to Flanders, France, and Eng¬ 
land — which was then in a wholly backward condition. (The 
Hanse merchants used to say: “We buy a foxskin from the Eng¬ 
lishman for a groschen and sell him back the brush for a guilder.”) 
In the West there arose a cluster of flourishing seaports, in mid¬ 
dle Germany a ring of thriving craft-towns — cloth towns, beer 
towns, silk towns, or herring towns — from Gothland to Naples 
a bee-like activity of hammering, weaving, haggling, and loading. 

Rise of the Mediaeval society had taken its physiognomy from the knight 
gmids anc j t h e pri es t. But now it was the three realistic callings which 
came into prominence: the burgher and the craftsman set the 
tone, and even the peasant began to realize that he was somebody. 
This revolution of social values was brought about in the first 
place through the gradual rise of the guilds. We have already 
alluded to the very general collapse of the so-called “ generations ” 
(■ Geschlechter ) —families constituting a sort of middle-class no¬ 
bility — in the course of the fourteenth century. They were the old, 
the blase, the lazy heirs, the dull-witted “ back numbers.” The 
guildsmen, on the contrary, were the moderns of their day, capa¬ 
ble of assimilating the meaning of the life-forces which were pre¬ 
paring to take over the mastery. In politics they were national and 
anti-clerical. It was from their ranks that artists came. They met 
everything new with intelligent sympathy, whether it were the 
principles of finance or the doctrines of mysticism. They produced 
the infantry, the arm of the future. They fought for work and en¬ 
lightenment, for lay Christianity, and for people’s rights. They 
pursued a sober, narrow, but sound and pious middle-class policy 
and were in the true sense Christian Socialists. 

q6 



Their organization was still wholly patriarchal. They were no 
mere association of economic interests, but an ethical union. The 
apprentice entered not only the business, but the family of his 
master, who was as responsible for his pupil’s moral guidance as 
for his technical training. Similarly the individual member’s re¬ 
lation to his guild was less that of a judicial subjection than of 
piety. It was a matter of honour rather than of economics to turn 
out good work. On the other hand, the guild regarded it as its 
most important duty pledged to find adequate markets for its 
members and to provide care and nourishment in case of illness 
or disablement. Social gatherings in special meeting-rooms, cor¬ 
porate festivities and processions, particular forms of salutation, 
and guild customs strengthened the bond. In time, however, this 
fine spirit of fellowship inevitably degenerated into a niggling 
guardship and rigid lifeless routine, so that even today this sort 
of thing is contemptuously called “guildish” {zunftlerisch ). 
Everything was scrupulously regulated, from speech-making and 
drinking of healths to the number of apprentices and the size of 
the shops. No apprentice might go out for his glass of beer before 
the bells struck three. Not more than six guilders were to be lost 
at play in one evening. Only personally finished articles were to 
be sold, so as to prevent the development of wholesale businesses. 
The workshop must give on to the street so that the work should 
be always open to inspection. No new work might be taken on 
before earlier orders had been completed. Delicate work was to 
be done by daylight only. All well-meant and sensible rules, but 
intolerably cramping in the long run. Above all, there was no 
possibility of grasping the broader implications of things or of 
organically combining opposing factors. These are the invariable 
drawbacks of an outlook which concentrates on immediate real¬ 
ities. Life in those days moved in a heavy armour of form and 
formulae, forced into that armour by a professional dilettantism 
that set itself against brains. Everywhere one sees a dogged cling¬ 
ing to the solid material of existence, without creative freedom, 
productiveness, or genius. Yet in its own domain this materialism 
won great victories. It was an age of loyal, conscientious, and ar¬ 
tistic handling of materials, of endowing material with dignity 
and beauty, of respect and veneration for the object that was be¬ 
ing fashioned, such as we of today can hardly imagine, an age of 

97 


Profes 

U 



Dawn of 
Rationalism 


craftsmen who brought more inventive genius, affection, and 
originality to bear on a lock or a wardrobe than is devoted to 
one of our modern luxury buildings. It was the heroic age of 

Philistinism. 

A growing sense of actuality usually tends to bring a certain 
rationalization and increased purposefulness into the business of 
living, and we can detect at this stage the first, though quite mod¬ 
est, attempts to master the problems of life scientifically. In the 
domain of nature-research confusion still reigned. Valuable dis¬ 
coveries of all sorts were made, but they were not co-ordinated, 
and even so thorough and many-sided a thinker as Regiomontanus 
impresses us as a learned collector of curiosities who stores his 
precious finds side by side as unsystematically as the veriest ama¬ 
teur. Konrad von Megenberg’s Buch der Natur, again, a sort of 
zoological text-book, is remarkably good in point of systematic ar¬ 
rangement, but has not emancipated its pictures and text from fab¬ 
ulous creatures — dragons, winged horses, mermaids, 'sphinxes, 
centaurs, fire-breathing dogs, and the like. In fact, the only sphere 
in which a fertile and unbroken empirical tradition ruled was that 
of craftsmanship. By dint of experimenting and perfecting, there 
came into existence a whole army of exquisite trifles and play¬ 
things: highly original clocks and locks, artificial waterworks, 
delicate instruments for goldsmith’s work, and magnificent or¬ 
gans. But there was no scientific intention behind them, only the 
idea of making existence more ornamental and comfortable. In 
finance, too, the feeling for numerical exactitude gained strength 
only slowly. In the main the methods used were primitive and 
summary. Errors in reckoning were so common that no one wor¬ 
ried about them. The idea of checking one’s calculations was 
entirely lacking, the use of zero as a positional number was 
unknown. Reckoning was done with the clumsy and unre¬ 
liable abacus. Division was an art which practically no one 
had mastered. Arithmetical work was a process of trial and 
error — that is, various results were tried in turn until one that 
appeared fairly plausible was obtained. Memory for figures, 
which we regard today as a matter of course, was then quite 
undeveloped. 

In the field of history considerable progress was made. The 
need of recording present and recapitulating past events was gen- 

98 



erally felt. Archives were established and almost every town had 
its chronicle. Froissart, the “French Herodotus,” is of course an 
outstanding and exceptional figure, but that such a figure could 
arise at all is significant of the age. In his work we have the first 
appearance of the specifically Gallic art of the raconteur in all its 
fullness, the richly coloured picture-book narrative bathed in the 
aroma of the time and moving with an even flow. He resembles 
Herodotus, too, in being a chronicler of actuals, a lover of the 
histoire intime, anecdote, and interesting gossip, one who makes 
world-history his own private affair and trusts his own eyes and 
ears more than the “ sources.” His opposite to a certain extent is 
Marsilius of Padua — that prototype of the suspicious, clear¬ 
sighted, dogmatic polyhistor, who was also doctor, lay preacher, 
and lawyer, creator of the modern theory of the State, and author 
of the antipapal Defensor pads, the very model of the political 
pamphlet. 

But the strongest and most eloquent monument of the awaken¬ 
ing Realism is in the poetic literature of the era. We have already 
mentioned the great expansion of satirical writing. Now, satire is 
always in itself a realistic form of literature. To attain its object it 
must go into facts, into concrete, individual traits of all sorts, not 
only in detail and precisely, but also, so to say, caressingly. Allied 
to the satirical carnival plays were the morality plays, so popular 
all over Europe. These were instructive shows in which the vices 
and virtues figured — at first, indeed, merely as dry allegories, 
but even so valuable for the high lights they threw on actual 
conditions. The very passion-plays had their regular burlesque 
scenes, which afforded ample opportunity for seeing life at its 
gayest and crudest, and certainly did not shock the undeveloped 
taste of the day. In France the “ farce ” made its appearance, and 
in it we find all the components of its modern counterpart. Indeed, 
Maitre Pathelin, the most famous of this type, contains all 
Moliere in embryo. Even the epic was moving in the direction of 
didactic character-drawing, although nothing on the Continent 
reached the classic height of the Canterbury Tales, in which 
Chaucer, the “ English Homer,” painted a full and many-coloured 
map of English society, complete with all its shades and grades, 
its transitions and mixtures. So clearly are the pilgrims, their 
modes, their features, and their dress depicted in this work that, as 

99 



Eman- 

ctfaiion 


Drydeix says, one might have supped with them at the Tabard 
in Southwark. 

The development of lyric poetry is marked by a sudden new 
blossoming of folk-song. Everywhere there burst out founts of 
song. Everyone sang: the miller, the travelling scholar, the moun¬ 
taineer, the merry peasant, the fisherman, the hunter, the lands¬ 
knecht, even the priest. And everything took on the form of song: 
love, mockery, mourning, worship, sociability. The story told in 
verse passed into the concentrated form of the ballad. A con¬ 
templating objectivity, a tangible corporeality, prevailed every¬ 
where. The stones of ruined castles began to talk, the lime-tree 
swayed sadly in the wind, the hazel-bush warned the lovesick 
maiden to have a care. Thenceforward, indeed, the maiden is al¬ 
ways in the centre of the picture in the new poetry, whereas it had 
been almost always the married lady who figured in the lyric of 
chivalry. The poet no longer languished for love of his unapproach¬ 
able, disdainful lady, but sang of the wooed-and-won, the in¬ 
trigue, the bedfellow; and love’s lament turns far more fre¬ 
quently on the inconstancy of the suitor gratified than on the 
coldness of the desired lady. That is, the tragic figure is not the 
unhappy lover, but the deserted sweetheart; and the author of 
the poem is no longer the high-born singer, but the travelling 
player — a much cruder, more realistic, and more popular figure. 
His rhymes and tales are concise, concentrated, and to the point. 
The anecdote, too, began to enjoy great popularity; also the 
afergu. Those verbal arrows of the Beghards already described 
were obviously nothing but pregnant aphorisms, keen-edged bons 
mots. In no other age has there been such a wealth of excellent 
proverbs, or so much space and importance allotted to them in 
the economy of life and thought. In the realm of the arts of form 
the pendant to the folk-song is found in the miniature painting, 
which caught and fixed the whole life of the period in tiny genre 
pictures, as telling as they are primitive. 

Rationalist currents are apt to draw emancipation move¬ 
ments after them, and these now became a prominent feature of 
the age. Each individual wanted to be his own master. We see it 
everywhere: in the watchword of kings, “ Freedom from Rome! ” 
that of the princes, “Freedom from the Empire! ” that of the 
towns, “Freedom from the sovereign!” and that of the serfs, 


IOO 



“ Freedom from the soil! ” Serfdom, however, was never actually 
abolished, but dissolved very gradually of itself. Social liberations 
are never really accomplished by decrees, which are equally ridic¬ 
ulous whether they come from above or below — the imperial- 
royal patent of the textbook-kaiser Joseph was as infantine an act 
as the proclamation of the Rights of Man in Paris — but they 
occur automatically and irresistibly at the moment when the 
spirit of the age demands that they should. Where the soil-bound 
serfs vanished, their liberation was not due to a tempestuous ris¬ 
ing : it was simply that all at once they were no longer there. They 
crumbled away — into the towns. Once a reasonably dense nu¬ 
cleus is formed anywhere, no power on earth can prevent the 
molecules from straining towards it. They gravitate towards this 
centre of forces as inevitably as a meteor falls into a sun. 

Radical emancipation from all political, social, and economic 
fetters was championed, as we have seen, by the Beghards (whom 
today we should probably call idealist-communists), by the Hus¬ 
sites, whose battle-cry was “ No mine, no thine! ” and by the 
mass of work-shy proletarians, that motley company of vaga¬ 
bonds, recruited from the derailed of every conceivable rank and 
profession. The Roman de la Rose, perhaps the most widely read 
book of its day, goes so far as to preach sexual communism: 

Nature n’est pas si sote 
Qu’ele feist nostre Marote. 

Ains nous a fait, biau filz n en doutes, 

Routes for tous et tous por toutes, 

Chascune por chascun commune, 

Et chascun commun por chascune. 

Deca 
« 

dm 


The subjective side of materialism expresses itself m a stead¬ 
ily increasing plebeianism. Manners and customs, speech and 
gesture, everything which goes to make up the inner melody of life, 
became coarser, ruder, more vulgar, and more direct. This was 
in part the result of the upthrusting of the lower social orders, but 
in all classes the colouring became more brutal and sensual. Even 
knights were knights no longer. Loyalty, honour, “gentleness,” 
“ steadfastness,” moderation: these had been the virtues extolled 
in the courtly age of poetry. Now a complete change had set in. 


IOI 



A nobleman, if not simply a robber, became a superior (or, rather, 
an inferior) peasant, or a troublesome swashbuckler. Up till then 
the problems of love, of Minne, had been his chief concern: courts 
of love, rules of love, deeds and sufferings in honour of the chosen 
one — nonsense perhaps, but definitely idealist. Whenever two or 
three junkers had met together, these had been their topics, or, if 
not these, religion and poetry. Now they began to discuss the very 
things which to this day form the almost exclusive topics of junk¬ 
ers : horses, wenches, duels, and corn prices. Geiler von Kaisers- 
berg wrote: “ only the name of nobility remains; those who bear 
it have nothing of the thing itself. It is a nutshell, without a kernel, 
but full of worms; an egg without a yolk. No virtue, no wisdom, 
no piety, no love for the State, no human courtesy . . . they are 
dissipated, arrogant, hasty, and as to the rest of the vices, they 
are more addicted to them than anyone else.” 

This it was which destroyed chivalry, and not, as is often as¬ 
serted, the invention of gunpowder. For, firstly, the knights were 
not dispossessed by the new forms of warfare, but by their own 
narrow-mindedness and haughtiness, which kept them from adapt¬ 
ing themselves in time to the new conditions; and, secondly, the 
use of fire-arms was only very slowly established. Already the 
Mongol armies of Ogdai Khan who descended on eastern Europe 
in the first half of the thirteenth century had brought with them 
on to the field of battle little field-guns from China. In the middle 
of that century Marcus Grsecus prepared an accurate recipe for 
making gunpowder, and the great Schoolman Roger Bacon, his 
contemporary, declared it to be the most effective means of de¬ 
struction. But Europeans were not yet ripe for it and, although 
they already possessed it, had to have it rediscovered for them by 
Berthold Schwarz nearly a century later. At Crecy in 1346 the 
English shot leaden pieces, “ frightening man and beast,” and in 
the same year a gun was made at Aachen to “ shoot thunder.” In 
1331, three years before Schwarz made his experiments, the Arabs 
had used gunpowder artillery at the siege of Alicante. But, even 
so, it was another century and a half before the fire-arm became 
the dominant weapon. Obviously, therefore, the knights had had 
ample time to reconsider their position. Instead, they blindly tink¬ 
ered at the old system and made it more and more rigid and one¬ 
sided. They covered themselves entirely with strips and plates. 


102 



their joints were protected by chain-mail, their heads by helmets 
with movable visors; not a square inch of their body was left ex¬ 
posed. Thus equipped, they became perambulating fortresses, 
tanks on horseback. Yet the very fact of their being mounted made 
the whole apparatus useless, for the horses could not be as thor¬ 
oughly protected, and if they went on foot they were about as 
mobile as a tortoise. On the disastrous field of Sempach, following 
the contemporary fashion of upturned shoe-points, their feet were 
encased in absurd steel boots in which they could hardly waddle. 

This battle was won by Arnold von Winkelried. They say, in¬ 
deed, that the story of his heroic deed arose at a much later date. 

But research of this sort merely does the superficial tidying-up of 
the history of nations. The saga is completely true — as true, in 
the higher sense, as any story can be. Winkelried was the whole 
Confederation in person when he seized and broke that sheaf of 
Austrian spears, that bundle of knightly insolence and incom¬ 
petence, of Habsburg tyranny, of inhumanity that deemed itself 
the flower of humanity. It was the first uprising of a nemesis for 
the heartlessness, injustice, and selfishness of a puffed-up adven¬ 
turer caste. The new Will conquered in a peasant embodiment, 
but the true herditary enemy and conqueror of feudalism resided 
elsewhere. For there now arose out of the dark background of the 
age the stronghold of the new spirit, that mysterious phenomenon 
of light and shade, the town. 

There had been towns, of course, from the beginning of the The 
second millennium, and indeed throughout the Middle Ages. But , 
it was now that for the first time they strengthened themselves for 
the domination of all existence. What is a town ? Actually it can 
only be defined negatively as the sharpest possible contrast to “ the 
country.” The peasant’s life is vegetative and organic, the towns¬ 
man’s cerebral and mechanical; in the country, man is a natural 
product of his environment, in the town the environment is an 
artificial product of man. 

In a town everything is different. Men’s faces take on a hitherto 
unknown expression — drawn, strained, and at once weary and 
excited; movements become hastier and more impatient, but also 
more definitely directed and purposeful; an entirely new tempo, 
a queer staccato, make their appearance. And the whole land¬ 
scape, too, becomes transformed. The town, with its capricious, 


103 



bizarre, unnatural forms that, consciously or unconsciously, em¬ 
phasize the contrast with the nature-grown and nature-moulded 
“ landscape” around it, at once dominates the perspective. For¬ 
est, field, and village sink to mere accessories, provide the decora¬ 
tion and staging. Everything takes its cue from this heart-organ 
which controls the whole circulation of the political and economic 
life of the neighbourhood. The legislation of the later mediaeval 
towns already illustrates this relentless will to become the domi¬ 
nating central organ that absorbs into itself everything what¬ 
ever that it can reach. Through the protectionist system, whereby 
the surrounding population was forbidden to ply any trade or to 
produce any articles which were manufactured in the town, a 
complete monopoly was created; and the staple laws, by forcing 
every merchant who passed through to expose his wares for sale 
and submit to having them priced by the magistrate, countenanced 
something very near highway robbery. 

The birth of the town is identical in all ages with the birth of 
modem man. It is not surprising, therefore, that those features 
which are definitely characteristic of the age should be most 
strongly marked in the towns. Take, for instance, materialism. 
One of its expressions is responsible for the extreme egotism of 
every individual town, which is a microcosm that takes no ac¬ 
count of anything but itself, feels itself alone entitled to live, and 
regards everything outside as auxiliary to its welfare. Every non- 
titizen is a natural enemy, if for no better reason than that he 
does not belong to the town. As town life is essentially more com¬ 
plicated and labile, it easily becomes a breeding-place for every 
kind of neurosis. At the same time it is a more conscious, sober, 
considered form of existence, more rationalistic and more reac¬ 
tive to all kinds of emancipation. Even before the end of the Mid¬ 
dle Ages there was a saying current that town air had a liberating 
effect, and as liberty is apt to engender a certain equality (or at 
least an assimilation) among the various forms of life, it was nat¬ 
urally in the towns that there first arose those waves of plebeianism 
which were soon to invade all ranks of society. 

Picturesque Every such town is nothing but a fortress-area, a product 
^ lth °f intention of maximum security outside and maximum 
self-sufficingness inside. The complications and chicanes of its 
fortification ditches and ramparts, gates and towers, curtains 

104 



9 C CA i +-M.-TW— ( ^ be 


• and boulevards, sally-bridges and machicoulis — imparted to the 
; ' ’ outer silhouette of the town the picturesqueness that is so ad- 
■; o mired; but the inner profile was even more picturesque. As the 
' streets were very seldom built in straight lines, but were mostly 
crooked and winding, there arose innumerable angles and bays, 
r corners and irregularities, and the rows of houses crossed, 
crowded, and broke into each other with chaotic effect. Further, it 
- was the custom to allow the upper stories to project in front so 
;; that the first floor leaned forward over the ground-floor and often 
£ ^ supported a second story with a still greater overhang. These pro- 
- jections, which were embellished with quaint little gables and 
Tj turrets, no doubt looked very well, but they made the streets nar- 
row, airless, and dark. The fact that wood was still the predomi- 
'' nating material alone made this style of building possible; but 
’ A “ this in turn led to constant outbreaks of fire on a large scale. On 


ir the ground level there were always a number of workshops and 
-* market stalls which took possession of the street and often almost 
' completely obstructed the traffic. Even the cellars thrust out their 
“ necks ” into the street. The pavements were wretched, or, rather, 
"l mostly non-existent, and the dirt and mud were such that no one 
J. unprovided with heavy wooden shoes could cross the road without 
sinking in. Chimneys were unknown. The gutters were of so primi- 
^ tive a type that they emptied their contents into the street; a gut- 
5 ter also ran down the middle of the road. A regular feature of the 
. . house was its imposing dungheap, which arose in front of the 
J door. In the main squares stood a draw-well, usually a most un- 
C 9 hygienic object. Then, too, the practice obtained of throwing 
y?- everything out on the street: refuse, filth, or dead animals. Worst 
of all were the living animals, however, the oxen, the cows, the 
geese, the sheep, and the pigs, which were driven through the 
street in herds and broke into strange houses uninvited. Roofs were 
often only thatched. Fagades were unadorned, bare, and forlorn; 
it was only in isolated cases that they were beautified by carving 
and painting. Windows were not yet glazed and either had no pro¬ 
tection, or were merely covered wth a screen of rags or oiled paper. 
Evidently, then, the exteriors of the towns in those days were not 
quite as romantic as we sometimes imagine. Most of all would a 
passer-by today be struck by the total lack of illumination. There 
were no street lamps, no light-diffusing shop-windows, no 


/M 


105 



illuminated public clocks, and the reflection of the dim tallow 
candles, resinous twigs, or vegetable-oil lamps within the houses 
did not penetrate to the street. Walking out at night meant either 
carrying one’s own lantern or hiring a linkman. Only when a 
potentate or high dignitary of some sort honoured the town with a 
visit was illumination provided. After nine o’clock everything fell 
into slumber, the only people left afoot being the homeless, the 
waylayers in their hiding-places, and the drinkers and card- 
players in the taverns. 

Oriental By day, on the other hand, life was immensely various and 
tumult mo bii e — perpetual coming and going, measuring and weighing, 
working and gossiping. A weird symphony composed of all im¬ 
aginable noises filled the streets. Every few minutes there would be 
bell-ringing and singing of hymns, which mingled with the roar¬ 
ing and grunting of the live-stock, the bawling and brawling of 
the idlers in the taverns, the hammering, planing, and tapping 
of workers in the open shops, the rattle of carts and stamping of 
draught-animals, and, finally, the melodious sound of the many 
hawkers who, in an age of universal illiteracy, had to find a sub¬ 
stitute for the poster and advertised their heterogeneous wares, 
from needles and pins to bacon pasties, with all the picturesque¬ 
ness of a varied vocabulary. 

Men were very matutinal in those days, and all this stir began 
betimes, in summer at four, in winter at five. By three o’clock, 
however, the reign of leisure usually set in. If we add to these 
optical and aural impressions the curious medley of smells that 
pervaded such a town: the hot fat of the bacon cakes mentioned 
above, the sizzling sausages, the steaming workshops, which, as 
we have seen, all gave on to the street, the fuming tar-boilers that 
stood in the centre of the town, the manure heaps and cow-dung, 
the scattered fruit, flower, and vegetable stalls, and the incense 
from the many churches, we shall have a picture not unlike those 
offered by oriental cities to this day. 

standard The standard of comfort and convenience was very modest 
o ivnng according to our ideas. Staircases were dark, labyrinthine, and 
awkward; floors and walls were seldom covered; furniture was 
limited to the indispensable articles. There was, however, a cer¬ 
tain luxury in the matter of ornamental pottery. The boards were 
graced with carved beakers, jugs, and cans; the kitchens of the 

106 



well-to-do glistened with copper kettles and pewter vessels. Beds 
were broad and soft and usually had a canopy; feather-beds were 
in general use, but night garments were unknown — people slept 
stark naked. Neither had the useful fork been invented. Meat was 
cut up with a knife, unless previously carved, and eaten with the 
fingers; for vegetables and sauces a spoon was used. Flowerpots 
and the bird-cage were part of the equipment of every self-respect¬ 
ing household. Pictures were a rarity, vermin, on the contrary, 
everywhere abundant. The “ stink chambers,” as closets were then 
called, were in an anything but desirable condition; on the other 
hand there were public—very public — conveniences in exist¬ 
ence. Still, generally speaking, the feeling for cleanliness was 
highly developed. A large part of social life centred in the public 
bathing-establishments, where people went to eat and drink, play 
dice, make music, and, of course, make love. Rich folk had their 
own baths, where they held receptions for their friends. Other 
opportunities for entertainment were afforded by the drinking- 
rooms of the guild-houses, the public dances and archery meet¬ 
ings, Shrove Tuesday, the fairs, Christmas, Midsummer day, and 
festivities in connexion with the visits of princes. 

In striking contrast to the poverty of private dwellings, how¬ 
ever, there was the splendour of the public buildings: the artistic 
fountains and gates, the magnificent churches with their cupolas, 
sculptures, and giant spires, the town halls with their picturesque 
roofs and stained glass, spacious Ratskeller and bright assembly- 
rooms, the cloth-halls, corn-exchanges, shoemakers’ halls, dance- 
houses and wine-houses — richness and splendour at every turn. 

The focal points of mediseval traffic had been the village (or 
the farm) and the monastery, which in a certain sense corre¬ 
sponded to the town. The larger monasteries embraced a very con¬ 
siderable area and housed many hundreds of people — not only 
the monks, but laymen seeking asylum, schoolchildren, and in¬ 
numerable artisans and servants. The famous monastery of St. 
Gall had a stud-farm, a brewery, a bakery, a dairy, a sheep-pen; 
workshops for saddlers, cobblers, fullers, sword-cutters, and gold¬ 
smiths ; fruit, vegetable, and herb gardens; a schoolhouse, a nov¬ 
ices’ house, a hospital, a bath-house, a “ blood-letting and purg¬ 
ing” house, a pilgrims’ lodging-house, and beside it (starred in 
Baedeker, so to say) a hospice for travellers of quality. 


Tht 


107 



It is typical of the plebeian character of the. new era that two 
very different foci now developed. These were the town and the 
road. There were, indeed, as yet no proper highways, the roads be¬ 
ing in as forlorn a condition as the streets in towns. The magnifi¬ 
cent Roman roads which had been so extensively laid down had 
fallen into decay, and the only available routes were broad field- 
tracks which had acquired a certain definiteness of direction from 
being much ridden and driven over. But, bad as they were, a dense 
and turbulent stream of traffic passed continuously over them. 
And a very picturesque clinical picture such a road must have 
presented, a revealing snapshot of the whole period, a caravan of 
fluctuating groups. There were monks and nuns, scholars and 
apprentices, mercenaries and pugilists, Beghards and Beguines, 
Flagellants and strolling players, pedlars and treasure-seekers, 
gipsies and Jews, quacks and exorcists, home pilgrims and pil¬ 
grims whose palm branches showed that they came from the Holy 
Land. Beggars there were of every speciality: the Valkentrager, 
who wore a painted bloody arm in a sling; the Grautener or sham 
epileptics, the sham blind, the mothers with hired cripple children, 
and many more. Then there were the race of variety performers, 
the so-called joculatores , including acrobats, clowns, dancers, 
jugglers, fire-eaters, animal ventriloquists, animal-trainers with 
their dogs or goats or guinea-pigs — and all these creatures were 
“ organized.” The habit of associations was indeed one of the 
most marked signs of the time. It pervaded all professions, all 
activities, and all forms of life. There were thieves’ and beggars’ 
fraternities, heretic societies, and anti-swearing and health-drink¬ 
ing unions; even the prostitutes and the lepers had their “ works 
councils.” Corporations had supplanted the vanished “ estates,” 
but while the latter had been a natural growth, corporations were 
definitely manufactured and stood in the same relation to the 
estates as artificial to natural flower-species. 

The Holy The most sensational product of the community spirit was 
Fekme that mediaeval institution the Fehme, which to this day is wrapped 
in romance and mystery, although the facts prove it to have been 
a most Philistine and prosaic form of justice. For as a matter of 
fact the Fehmic courts held their sittings, neither in sinister mum¬ 
mery nor in underground vaults, but quite publicly and in the 
open country by daylight. Those mysterious doings of which so 

108 



much has been made consisted in nothing more than a few secret 
signs of greeting and recognition, scrupulously guarded by the 
members in much the same way as freemasons now guard theirs. 
The procedure of the court was rough and primitive, the sentence 
depending simply upon the number of sworn guarantors who ap¬ 
peared for or against the accused; and as the “initiated,” or 
members of the Fehme, were naturally able to enrol such wit¬ 
nesses more easily, applications poured in, anyone of untainted 
reputation being eligible. Undeniably, however, the Fehme con¬ 
stituted in a sense a supplement to the regular forms of justice, 
which were both feeble and biased. In many ways the latter were 
indeed more brutal. The only form of death sentence inflicted by 
the Fehme was that of hanging, and even that in the majority of 
cases was not carried out; but the public courts passed the most 
savage sentences on most crimes (among them some which are 
comparatively small and in no sense “ criminal ” according to 
our ideas): coiners were suffocated, adulteresses buried alive, 
traitors drawn and quartered, slanderers branded, murderers 
broken on the wheel or flayed; blasphemers and perjurers had 
their tongues torn out, brawlers their hand or ear cut off. None 
of these punishments, it should be added, were carried out con¬ 
sistently, for in general the judicial procedure of the time was 
wanting in both logic and continuity. 

The tone of the age was thoroughly coarse. Even in the highest 
circles swearing, belching, and suchlike crudities were quite nor¬ 
mal. Phrases like “ A bad year come to thee! ” “ The plague take 
thee! ” or “ Hell fire burn thee up! ” were mere currency. Now, it 
is simply the prevailing mode of the time which decides where 
naturalness becomes shocking — in more civilized centuries than 
our own it will, no doubt, be considered scandalous that we mis¬ 
used our social gatherings for the unappetizing process of taking 
nourishment together. A preference for dumpiness, compactness, 
and massiveness prevailed in all things. As to the relations of the 
sexes, erotidsm had been driven out by sexuality. Woman was 
no longer an ideal, a higher being, a fairy-tale come true, but a 
means of enjoyment. It is very significant that, just at this time, 
men’s dothing was more extravagant in colour and cut than 
women’s. A man decked himself out like a salmon, a turkey-cock, 
or a bird of paradise that puts on its courting or “ wedding ”- 

109 



clothes. The standpoint was purely the animal. To place woman 
in the position of a mere sex object was in one sense to lower, but 
in another to elevate her; for the Middle Ages had made of her so 
apotheosized an object that she became degraded into a doll, a 
lure, or an expensive plaything and stood as completely outside 
life as does the American woman of today. But now she at least 
stood wholly on earth and became a human being. She was infected 
by the general urge towards emancipation, her attitude was bolder, 
her rightful position in the family and in public was acknowl¬ 
edged: indeed, she may be said in the period to have held the 
spiritual and moral primacy. She took part in all the religious and 
scientific efforts of the day — a point to which we shall return 
when we come to talk about mysticism. 

The culture Eating and drinking naturally played a great role in so mate- 
°tdie ^al a P er i°d, and here, too, truly vulgar standards of taste pre¬ 
vailed. The chief desideratum was that all dishes should have a 
sting, and the result was a prodigality of seasoning which more 
differentiated palates would find intolerable. Indiscriminate use 
was made of cinnamon, pepper, rhubarb, calomel, onion, nutmeg, 
ginger, saffron, and the like. Cloves, lemons, and raisins were 
used where a modern cook would not hear of them. Even as a snack 
between meals, “ spice powder,” a mixture of pepper and sugar 
toasted on bread, was popular. As regards quantity, there was 
undoubtedly heavier consumption than in our day, but not to the 
exaggerated extent that we imagine. This would be a typical menu 
for instance: first course, eggs (beaten up with peppercorns, saf¬ 
fron and honey), millet, vegetables, mutton with onions, roast 
chicken with prunes; second course, stockfish with oil and raisins; 
bream fried in oil, stewed eel with pepper, broiled herrings with 
mustard; pickled bait, baked “Barmen” (according to Sturte- 
vant, apples in butter), small birds (roasted in dripping) with 
radishes, leg of pork with cucumber. Or, to take another: first, 
mutton and chickens in milk of almonds, roast sucking-pig, geese, 
carp and pike, a pasty; then, roast venison with pepper sauce, rice 
with sugar, trout stewed with ginger, flat cakes with sugar; and, 
lastly, roast goose and chicken stuffed with eggs, carp and pike, 
cake. These menus cannot be regarded as over-luxurious, seeing 
that they were designed for special feasts, nor will the separate 
dishes in the courses be considered too numerous if we bear in mind 


no 



that they were offered for selection like our still more various hors 
d’ceuvres; one took a helping of one, and another of another, but 
only the real glutton sampled them all. It is from the standpoint of 
a modern gourmet that the combinations are so barbarous; in 
particular the little birds (presumably sparrows) in dripping with 
radishes must have tasted atrocious. Everyday meals were quite 
plain, even in well-to-do families. A guest from our epoch would 
probably miss sugar more than anything, for this was still a very 
costly article, used only on special occasions and as medicine. 
Then the fare included practically no vegetables, or, at the most, 
cabbage or millet. Green peas were considered a delicacy; rice was 
known, but did not often figure. Above all, there were lacking the 
two items without which we can hardly imagine a meal: soup and 
potatoes. 

A good deal of drink — principally beer—was regularly con¬ 
sumed, especially in Germany. Wine was sour and badly kept, and 
honey and spices were added to improve it. The tasty Southern 
wines were drunk only as aperitifs, even by the rich. In general, 
wine was treated with respect and more in the light of a medicine: 
as a purgative, an opiate, an aid to digestion, and at the same time 
a gift of God. 

We now come to one of the most important characteristics of 
the age, which we will call diabolism or Satanism. Human beings, 
or at least many of them, had at that time something diabolical 
about them. And there was something diabolical also in the ex¬ 
ternal events which beat in on them. It is hardly surprising, there¬ 
fore, that many of these deranged and frightened creatures became 
obsessed with the idea that Antichrist had obtained the mastery 
and that the reign of evil which preluded the Day of Judgment had 
already set in. The fundamental feeling which possessed them is 
perhaps best explained by the term “ world-nightmare.” Outward 
impressions and events affected them like a huge, monstrous 
nightmare, an evil ghostly dream. Tortured humanity moved in 
a perpetual fear-neurosis, which a fear-inspired chase after riches 
and pleasure could only deaden by spasms. In their very exterior 
the men and women of that time betrayed their devastated condi¬ 
tion. They were, to our ideas, frankly ugly, being either lean and 
emaciated or spongy and bloated, sometimes grotesquely combin¬ 
ing the two extremes; as when a ponderous belly was supported 


Tke < 
nigt 


III 



on thin legs, and fat bosoms were surmounted by shrunken 
faces. Their eyes have a strange fixed and frightened expression, 
the look of a person hypnotized by some terrible vision. They 
carried themselves either heavily and coarsely, or with an awk¬ 
ward embarrassed air, betraying either an exaggerated shyness or 
its reverse, a brutality that tried to outface the inner fear. 

The The political conditions were chaotic to the point of madness. 
-pincers The diplomacy of most rulers was characterized by mere blind 
• greed, which incited them to seize the best of the pickings without 
a thought for the welfare of others, or even for their own imme¬ 
diate future — and this at a time when the pressure closing in on 
them from all sides was rising to the horrible. Middle Europe 
seemed to be in the clutches of a polypus. In each of the four 
quarters a menacing pair of pincers was waiting to tear the Con¬ 
tinent to pieces. In the east there was the Slav menace — Lithuania 
united to Poland under the Jagellons, a monster empire stretch¬ 
ing to the Black Sea and embracing, in addition to its homelands, 
Galicia, Volhynia, Podolia, Red Russia, the Ukraine, and (since 
the defeat of the Teutonic Order at Tannenberg) West and East 
Prussia. In the north lay the powerful combination of the three 
Scandinavian kingdoms, the Union of Kalmar. In the west was 
the new great power of the Dukes of Burgundy, intent on break¬ 
ing off ever larger portions of the German empire. Above all, from 
the south came the onset of the Turks, that uniquely constituted 
nation which devoted all its manifestations of life to the exclusive 
purpose of military conquests; conquests in pursuit of no re¬ 
ligious, national, or social aim, but simply conquests as such; a 
nation not growing organically, like a vital substance which ab¬ 
sorbs and assimilates things around it, but inorganically spread¬ 
ing itself without meaning or defined limits, much as a crystal 
grows by “ apposition.” The Osmanli owed their victories pri¬ 
marily to the dual qualities of simplicity and firmness in their 
organization, which made it unique in its day. Subordinate to the 
Sultan were the two beylerbeys (lord of lords) of Asia and Eu- 
rope; subordinate to them in turn were the beys of individual 
sanjaks; subordinate to these the alai beys (brigadiers) and to 
these again the timarlis, holders of the smaller fiefs. The Sultan 
had, therefore, but to give the signal for this colossal standing 
army to be set in motion. Even for a student of today it is queerly 

112 



disquieting to follow the Turkish conquest as it eats its way fur¬ 
ther and further into Europe. But its contemporaries seem for 
a considerable period to have regarded it with no very great alarm. 
Only rarely did they pull themselves together for vigorous action 
and never for combined efforts. The western powers made their 
help conditional on the submission of the Eastern Church to the 
Roman, and while precious time was filtered away in hair-splitting 
disputes over the conditions of the union, the Turkish advance 
progressed like a torrent. In 1361 they conquered Adrianople; a 
generation later they destroyed the kingdom of Greater Serbia in 
the terrible battle of Kossovo. In the same year Sultan Bayazid 
(known as II derim, the Flash of Lightning) mounted the throne 
and shortly afterwards, at Nicopolis, won a decisive victory over 
a crusading army which had at last been got together. He swore 
an oath that he would not rest until he had turned the altar of 
St. Peter’s into a crib for his horse. About half a century later the 
fall of Constantinople struck terror in the whole of western Eu¬ 
rope. In another five years came the occupation of Athens, which 
was followed in the course of the next decade by that of Bosnia, 
Wallachia, and Albania. The Turks had now firmly established 
themselves as rulers of the Balkans and were reaching out towards 
Hungary. 

In central Europe, from the middle of the fourteenth to the 
middle of the fifteenth century, the House of Luxemburg held 
sway. It was a strange race, bigoted and godless, foolhardy and 
vacillating, politically shrewd and spiritually diseased, which rose 
like a gorgeous comet in that universal night of a declining age, 
only to lose itself as abruptly in the darkness. It was but an inter¬ 
lude in German and European history, but a very curious one, for 
when one comes to think of it, had its bold far-reaching schemes 
been carried out to the end, the dynasty would today have a power 
such as no other in Europe has ever achieved. But the Luxem- 
burgs wanted too much, and therein precisely lay the root of their 
eventual failure. They aimed at nothing less than a union of the 
three groups of countries which later formed the Austrian and the 
Prussian, and had previously been the Bohemian spheres of ex¬ 
pansion. They carried on at the same time enough schemes to 
make dynastic policies for a Habsburg, a Hohenzollem, and an 
Ottokar together. Their plans were laid on too large a scale, like 

113 


Luxe-. 


1 



mammoth buildings which are never finished 5 their political im¬ 
agination, true to its period, suffered from elephantiasis. 

The reign of the first Luxemburger, Charles IV, is brightened 
by a wise and beneficent encouragement of science and art, and 
above all by the dazzling apparition of Rienzi, the “ last of the 
tribunes,” a fiery fantast belonging to the family of picturesque 
adventurers who leave no permanent traces in history and yet im¬ 
press themselves more deeply on the memory than their most 
productive contemporaries. Rienzi had something of the genius’s 
uncompromising directness and breadth in his ideas, which im¬ 
posed itself on all; on the other hand, he had an undisciplined, 
sweeping immoderateness which caused him only too soon to 
transgress the bounds of possibility and brought him to his down¬ 
fall. But his grandiose dreams of the rebirth of Rome’s former 
greatness, of the restoration of a European world-empire, did not 
die with him; he still lives in the long line of shining fabulous be¬ 
ings whose portraits, falsified by legend, fertilize our imagination 
better than a hundred “ epoch-making ” facts from real history. 

The last of the Luxemburgs, Sigismund, also achieved legend¬ 
ary fame, though of a very different nature, through his betrayal 
of Huss, whom he is said to have lured to his death by a letter of 
safe-conduct. Actually his behaviour constituted no breach of the 
law according to the views of the time, and there is no record of a 
single important contemporary raising this accusation — and this 
though the Council was attacked right and left in judicial, politi¬ 
cal, and even theological circles. But here, too, is a case where we 
are bound to accept the unhistoric, people’s view as the truer one. 
For, in a higher and deeper sense, he did act in bad faith when he 
set himself against the progressive forces of the heart of his own 
nuclear land and—be the legal rights of the matter what they 
may—permitted the fall of the man who embodied the will of 
the people. We can see him before us, the old hypocrite, leaning 
this way and that, seeking shallow compromises, now persuading 
Huss to give in, now flattering the princes of the Church; the 
voluptuous fop and corrupt rhetorician with his red forked beard, 
the connoisseur of brilliant witticisms, elegant courtesans, and 
delectable fish dishes; smooth, hollow, without aim or convic¬ 
tion, hatred or love, a totally unreal person, a glittering, polished 
cipher. 



It is a remarkable thing that at one point in that period there 
should have been two mad kings reigning almost simultaneously. 
These were Charles VI of France (1380-1422), and Wenceslas 
(1378-1419). The latter was a grotesque daemonic sadist and 
alcoholic maniac. One day when his cook spoilt the dinner, he had 
him roasted on the spit. Another time he sent for the execu¬ 
tioner and said he just wanted to know how a man felt who was 
about to be beheaded. He thereupon bared his neck, bandaged his 
eyes, knelt down, and ordered the executioner to cut off his head. 
The man just touched the King’s neck with his sword. Wenceslas 
then made him kneel down, bandaged his eyes, and severed his 
head at one blow. Meeting a monk one day when hunting, he drew 
his bow and shot him dead, remarking to his suite: “ That’s an 
odd head of game that I’ve shot.” These monstrous doings led 
someone to write on a wall: “ Wenceslas, old Nero.” Wenceslas 
wrote underneath it: “ Si non fui adhuc, ero.” (All these details 
are noted by Dynter, ambassador to his court in 1413.) It is com¬ 
mon knowledge that he had John of Nepomuk, the future national 
hero of the Czechs, drowned in the Moldau, apparently because 
he would not betray to him the secret told in the confessional by 
his wife — clearly one of those manifestations of jealousy which 
are a regular concomitant of alcoholic mania. At the same time he 
was an extremely clever, a too cunning, diplomat, always provided 
with altogether excellent reasons for his actions — here, it is rather 
the folie raisonnante that we seem to be dealing with. Besides 
these two madmen there were two imbeciles, Henry VI of Eng¬ 
land, who was notoriously so, and Frederick III, who was cer¬ 
tainly not far removed from it, a Kaiser who ruled — or, rather, 
did not rule — over Germany for fifty-three years in complete 
apathy, childishly dreaming his life away. When the news of Con¬ 
stantinople’s fall reached Germany, a German chronicler wrote: 
“ The Kaiser sits at home, gardening and catching little birds, the 
poor creature! ” 

The histories of England and France during this period can¬ 
not be studied separately, as they were almost incessantly in¬ 
termingled. They present a grim picture of bloodthirsty feuds, 
treacherous murders, broken promises, and the lowest depths 
of political vileness. Shakspere surrounded the actors in these 
horrors with a mystifying aura of narcotic dsemony, causing them 

US 



to gleam with a strange snake-like iridescence, at once repulsive 
and alluring. His histories are the sparkling ride to hell of a whole 
generation, which, hunted pathetically from superlative heroism 
to animal baseness and back, rushes irretrievably on to the abyss 
it has made for itself. Of course he magically heightens the actual¬ 
ity, yet something of all this was in fact inherent in the times. 
These men affect us like certain gorgeous toadstools or those evil 
flesh-eating orchids, whose cruelty and cunning radiate a concilia¬ 
tory aroma of mysterious beauty. 

For over a century the wars of succession raged, brought about 
by the claim of English kings to the throne of France — an un¬ 
nerving alternation of advances and retreats by the English, who 
achieved brilliant victories and frequently occupied large por¬ 
tions of France, but yet never succeeded in establishing them¬ 
selves permanently, and were finally left with the bridge-head of 
Calais as their sole possession. The turning-point came with Joan 
of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, as unreal an apparition as Sigismund, 
though in exactly the opposite sense. She was a transcendental 
being, living entirely in that world of the spirit — of which the 
existence is denied by shallow empiricists because it cannot be 
positively demonstrated — by which human history is at all times 
affected and determined. 

The internal history also of the two countries is as bloody as 
it is confused. In England there were the Wars of the Roses, 
which took on that inhuman character that is the rule in struggles 
between near relations, and side by side with them the cruel per¬ 
secutions of the Lollards, Wyclif’s supporters. France had its 
citizen revolts in Paris, and a great insurrection of the peasants 
in the provinces, called (after their leader Caillet, nicknamed 
Jacques Bonhomme) the Jacquerie, and accounted one of the 
most atrocious events in the world’s history. Later came the bat¬ 
tles between the growing power of the crown and the great vassals 
who tried to maintain their independence. Under the shrewd, en¬ 
ergetic, and perfidious Louis XI the realm became more and more 
centralized, but this result was won at the cost of the dissolution 
of the Burgundian domains, in which everything of cultural value 
and importance belonging to the age was assembled. Here stood 
the finest, most flourishing cities; here were created the choicest 
products of industry and craftsmanship; here lived the greatest 

116 



painters, musicians, and mystics. Indeed, the Burgundian culture 
may be taken as the most thoroughgoing example of the “ incuba¬ 
tion period.” It was a world of blood and colour, of red passions 
and a bright will to beauty; a world at once blooming and Him, 
childlike and perverse, dull and supersplendid — a big, swelled, 
barbaric fever-dream. The Dutch scholar Huizinga, in an excel¬ 
lent book recently published, has described it as the “ autumn of 
the Middle Ages.” To us it seems more of a mysterious prelude 
to spring, the subterranean awakening of a new life amid snow 
and hail and all the capricious spasms of expectant, agitated 
nature. 

The only two positive credit-entries which European politics 
can show during this period are the expulsion of the Arabs from 
Spain and the destruction of Mongol rule in Russia. 

The condition of the Church has already been frequently al¬ 
luded to. A furious contempt for the clergy is the signature of the 
age. On every possible occasion we hear denunciation of their 
coarseness and ignorance, their self-indulgence and licence, their 
covetousness and idleness. They played, drank, hunted, thought 
only of their stomach, and ran after every petticoat. In Italy in 
particular the words “ parson ” and “ cicisbeo ” are almost syno¬ 
nyms. Innumerable public sayings, cliches, and proverbs reflect 
the prevailing attitude towards the clerical class. It was uni¬ 
versally held that a bishop could not enter heaven. A specially 
plentiful and luscious feast was called a prelates’ dinner. Of 
celibacy it was said that it differed from wedlock in that the lay¬ 
man had one wife, but the priest ten. “ As long as the peasant has 
wives, the priest has no need to marry ”; “ ‘ I crucify my flesh,’ 
says the monk as he lays the ham and venison crosswise on his 
buttered bread.” Concubines were a matter of course with most 
of the clergy; they were known as “ soul-cows ” because they were 
the constant entourage of the soul-pastor. Even a theological au¬ 
thority such as Chancellor Gerson declared the oath of chastity 
to mean simply the renunciation of marriage, and when it was de¬ 
sired to reproach anyone for particularly loose living, the phrase 
was: “ lewd as a Carmelite.” It was quite usual for priests to fre¬ 
quent taverns, play for dancing, and tell ribald stories; even in 
the Vatican reading aloud from pornographic literature was much 
enjoyed. The Council of Constance drew courtesans, jugglers, 

117 



and procurers in crowds from all quarters, and Avignon was re¬ 
puted to have become a city of brothels after the popes took it for 
their residence. Nay, we could go further and say that part of the 
clergy was caught in a current of atheism to which the people 
reacted in their turn. 

Yet these were but scattered and separate symptoms, and op- 
Wyciif position was as yet inert, lacking in conscious aim and in uni¬ 
formity. The first massed attack against the Papal Church began 
with Wyclif, who with scientific orderliness and precision, tem¬ 
perament, sledge-hammer power of argument, and an almost 
poetical gift of representation, forestalled all the ideas on which 
the later Reformation was founded, and even, in some points, went 
far beyond the leaders of that movement. He started from the clear 
and simple principle that the Church was no longer the Church and 
the pope no longer the Pope. It was not for the Pope to be the im¬ 
perious ruler, but the humble servant of Christ; the governance 
of souls was given him by God to hold as a fief, and if he were a 
bad vassal, failing to keep his Lord’s laws and associating with 
His deadly enemies, worldly lust and worldly possessions, then it 
must be escheated. The Papacy was not demonstrably founded in 
the law of God, the Church had no outward and visible head. 
Wyclif desired, therefore, no more and no less than a popeless 
Church. But he made two more important points: laymen were 
to have the right to read the Bible (which he translated into Eng¬ 
lish for the purpose), and most of the external apparatus of ec¬ 
clesiastical practice was to go — pilgrimages and the use of relics, 
confession and extreme unction, celibacy and the hierarchy. And, 
lastly, he contested even the dogma of transubstantiation. Huss- 
ism added nothing to Wyclif’s system and on certain points even 
narrowed it down. It is, indeed, no more than a weaker, emptier 
duplication of Wyclifism and contains no single original feature; 
but the figure of Huss himself acquired a terrific impressiveness 
by reason of his earnestness, strength of character, and unyield¬ 
ing determination to seek the truth, though with all this there was 
mingled a chaotic strain of bull-obstinacy and narrow-mindedness 
- characteristic of all Slav thinkers. 

On the program of the Council of Constance there stood three 
Papa tri- main points: the causa unionis, the causa reformationis, and the 
t hans causa fidei. For none of these three problems was anything even 

118 



approaching a solution obtained. Conciliarism amounted almost 
to a sort of republican movement within the Church. It aimed at 
reducing the Papacy to a purely nominal monarchy, a Mikado- 
dom, so to speak, and placing the actual government in the hands 
of the Council, the parliament of bishops. The final result was, not 
only the victory of Curialism over all these efforts, but Papal 
A bsolutism. 

Thus we have the Papacy entirely triumphant, more trium¬ 
phant than ever. It triumphed over the bishops and the national 
churches, over the heretics, over the Emperor and the Empire. 
Only in one quarter did it fail to triumph, but that was the most 
important and alone decisive — the human heart. That is why 
it sinks all at once into impotence and senile decay and asphyxia. 
Outward victories and defeats determine nothing in the march 
of history. The Kaiser-idea was dead, but not on account of its 
defeats; the Pope-idea died in spite of its victories and hence¬ 
forth overlay the world merely as a shadow of a ghostly shadow. 
The pope ruled without limitations; but no one now took him 
seriously, men believed him no more. And as belief in him had 
been all that really mattered, he was now no longer the successor 
of Peter, the shepherd of the nations, the vicar of Christ; but 
only the mighty prince of the Church, the senior bishop, a king 
with a crown, a treasury, and a state, a rich old man like some 
others. 

What help did his tiara give him ? — he was no longer the 
Holy Father. Let everyone do homage to him, recognize him as 
ruler of this world and, for that matter, as ruler of the other world, 
it was all useless: for he was not any of these things. Had the popes 
honestly tried, in so far as their feeble human powers permitted, 
to become likenesses of — no, not Christ — merely Peter, like¬ 
nesses of the good old fisherman, so simple, understanding, 
vacillating, but so divinely inspired in his simplicity, so fervently 
struggling to understand, and so touching in his vacillation: then 
would all Europe be Catholic, and Catholic in belief, to this day. 

But the popes did not see it that way. They wanted to take an 
unfair advantage: to rule over souls and at the same time be 
earthly rulers; to emancipate themselves from the law which 
ordains that the one kingdom can only be bought by renouncing 
the other. It was this untruth, this impossibility, this desperate 

119 



Desmans 

and 

magicians 


and unrighteous challenge to the moral system of the universe, 
which proved their ruin. 

The simple always wins and this case was a simple one to 
sum up. Here is a man who holds his court in gold and purple, 
commands millions, condemns millions, tries to usurp the Kaiser’s 
rights, and all on the authority of a claim to be the earthly repre¬ 
sentative of one who lived among men despised as a beggar, who 
neither could nor would command anyone, who accused none and 
gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s due — Caiaphas posing as the 
vicar of Christ! 

In all this, however, there is one point that must not be lost 
sight of: that apart from Wyclifism, which was practically ex¬ 
terminated after his death by the house of Lancaster, and Huss- 
ism, which became bogged in compromise, the whole movement 
was at first anti-clerical only and not anti-Catholic. This is an 
important difference. It was not the dogmas and rituals that men 
attacked, but false uses and degradation of them; the abuses, not 
the uses. To this extent the controversy was juridical rather than 
theological. 

While men’s faith was being thus shaken and disorientated 
and humanity had allowed itself to become confused by the serv¬ 
ants of the Church without finding the courage to doubt the 
Church itself, there rose to the surface some strange currents 
which had always been at work underground, but now, in the gen¬ 
eral state of helplessness, became a new power in life. Since God 
no longer spoke through His priests, other announcers of His will 
were sought, and thus there arose a very thinly masked polytheism 
in the form of a daemon-worship which was reckless, often formi¬ 
dable, and occasionally nasty. Everywhere fantastic intermediaries 
plied between God and man, and the spirits of hell aroused more 
fear and respect than the saints. The whole atmosphere was filled 
with little devils, coarse and fine, wise and foolish, harmless and 
malicious. They were “ as numerous as the dust-particles in a 
shaft of sunlight.” They sat at table, in the workshop, on the bed- 
edge; they rode on goats’ backs or appeared in the guise of ravens, 
rats, and toads. And alongside of them all manner of nature-spirits 
led a mysterious existence in bush and forest, in wells and lakes, 
in fire and wind — pale memories of the ancient mythology. All 
the marvellous creatures which still people our fairy-tales con- 


120 



trolled in those days the whole of the grown-up population’s do¬ 
ings. There were elves, nixies, fairies, witches, kobolds, and 
nightmares. Even the Church’s saints were transformed into na¬ 
ture-gods, heathen elementals. No longer did Jews, heretics, and 
the Mohammedans inspire mere hatred and horror, but rather fear 
and respectful awe; for all the world believed in the desecration 
of the Host, black masses, and ritual murders. We should, how¬ 
ever, be seriously misunderstanding the real source of this super¬ 
stition if we were to allocate it to crazy religious fanaticism or 
even intentionally malicious slander. The people regarded these 
God-defying actions, not as a mere negation, but as a very real 
devil-worship, a sort of inverted Christianity and looked up to it 
with the same astonishment as to the figure of Antichrist. Men 
of those days, as we have pointed out, held the more or less clear 
conviction that the Devil ruled the world, and it was only logical 
that they should believe in the secret existence of a Devil’s church, 
a Devil’s congregation, and a Devil’s ritual. 

Side by side with the grosser superstitions, there grew up and 
spread an abstruse but systematic belief in magic. Spells and 
prophecies, the interpretation of dreams and the flights of birds, 
consultation of the hours and the planets, were all part of the 
routine of daily life. Omens were seen everywhere: in the neigh¬ 
ing of horses and howling of wolves, in the direction of the wind, 
and in the form of the clouds. Curses and blessings had the power 
to ban or attract;' certain signs and gestures were able to bind 
or loose. To meet a hunchback brought luck; to meet an old 
woman or — very significantly — a priest brought ill luck. Numer¬ 
ous legends, too, reflect this belief in these ever present and often 
triumphant powers of evil, chief among them the widespread saga 
of the wizard Virgil: a Lucifer-like figure that successfully defies 
God’s commands, obtains gold and dominion through the black 
art, and sees all the knowledge of the world in a magic mirror — 
the forerunner, in fact, of Faust. And over it all is the vaulting of 
a dark dome, a world-wide fatalism which finds the supreme wis¬ 
dom in passive prostration before a destiny long ago written down 
in the stars. 

Then to make the cup of misery- full, the murky yellow flood 
of gold poured into this religionless world. Wealth, especially sud¬ 
den wealth, is always demoralizing, but here it was a case of a 


M 
econ 
•with t 
consL 


121 



young and quite unprepared humanity with the mediaeval view 
of the sinfulness of taking money still in its blood. 

“ God has shapen lives three, 

Boor and knight and priest they be. 

Devil made the fourth and he 
Drives the trade of usury,” 

says Freidank. But by usury he obviously means every kind of 
business transaction. Caesarius of Heisterbach expresses the same 
view in one clear-cut sentence: “Mercator sine peccamine vix 
esse potest ” The mendicant monks held similar opinions, and 
when it was pointed out to them that even our Lord made use of 
money, they replied: “ Yes, but He gave the bag to Judas.” An¬ 
other writer, Geiler of Kaisersberg, says: “ Trading in money is 
not work, but fleecing others in idleness.” The general point of 
view was clearly that taking interest and selling — in short, all 
forms of gain arising from the disposal and not the production of 
goods — was but a finer and more indirect form of fraud. And this 
is less paradoxical than it may seem at the first glance to our 
modern susceptibilities. We hold the same prejudice to a certain 
extent ourselves, particularly in so-called good society. For there, 
too, a person would lose caste if it were discovered that he was 
engaged in lending money at interest (even quite moderate in¬ 
terest) to friends and acquaintances or in selling things to them 
at a profit (be it never so modest a profit). We see, therefore, that 
an ethical principle which once ruled all classes is still alive and 
effective in a circle which is, so to say, an enclave of good manners 
and conduct. It is not so long ago, we must remember, that in 
England a man could only call himself a gentleman if he had no 
mercantile occupation. 

Handicraft was not included under trading, for in fact it was 
not the disposal of the product, but the work on it, that was paid 
for, particularly as in most cases the raw materials were still pro¬ 
vided by the clients. You took your own cloth to the tailor, your 
leather to the shoemaker, your flour to the baker, and your wax to 
the candle-maker. Even so, already there were large numbers of 
people who lived by buying and selling, and these found themselves 
in a curious psychical condition. On the one hand they shared the 


122 



views of the age, on the other they were not inclined to give up 
their lucrative occupation; that is, they traded, but with a bad 
conscience. Such a condition could not but prove demoralizing, 
because it engenders the feeling of a desperado. One feels one¬ 
self an outlaw, a person “ beyond the Good and Evil ” of his era, 
and so lapses into the psychosis of the immoralist. 

In approaching the question of the “ immorality ” of the age 
we must begin by taking into consideration two things: first, that 
fundamentally every age is “ immoral,” and, second, that im¬ 
morality may often mean nothing but a higher, freer, more com¬ 
plicated form of morality. In the case before us, however, it is 
certainly fair to say that the normal and, so to say, legitimate 
quantum of immorality which may be considered as part of man¬ 
kind’s “ iron ration ” was considerably exceeded; and that the 
life-expressions, which under different conditions might have been 
considered as the signs of an increasing freedom from prejudice 
and a finer sensitiveness to shades of morality, are here, on the 
contrary, the symptoms of a moral ataxia, a complete insensitivity 
to moral impressions. 

The freedom between the sexes was typically represented by 
the bathing-establishments, which existed even in villages and were 
no better than places of rendezvous for lovers or convenient re¬ 
sorts for picking up acquaintances. Men and women bathed en¬ 
tirely naked, or with at most a loin-cloth, and usually from morn¬ 
ing till night; either in baths “ for two,” or in the large tanks 
bordered with galleries for spectators. (There were also, of course, 
private rooms.) These establishments were by no means visited 
by prostitutes and light women only, but by all the world. A still 
more dissolute life grew up in the watering-places, which, as in 
every age, attracted besides the genuine health-seekers, a stream of 
adventurers of every description, beaux and love-hungry women. 
An obvious witticism described these baths as beneficial for the 
childless. There is no need, in our characterization here, to go be¬ 
yond normal vice for our examples. “Women’s houses” were 
more numerous than ever before or after. Every little town pos¬ 
sessed several. The magistrates’ orders forbidding these houses to 
take in “ girls who have not yet any breasts ” are illuminating. It 
would seem that it was not immoral to bring children into the 
brothels. Equally characteristic is the prohibition on boys of 


123 



twelve to fourteen being admitted as visitors. Married women, 
too, were not unusually frequenters of these places. The “ pretty 
ones ( Hubschlerinnen ),” it may be said, enjoyed a certain social 
standing. There was none of the modern “ Tartufferie ” that re¬ 
wards these martyrs of society with contempt. At the official re¬ 
ceptions of royalties they appeared corporatively, for (as we have 
seen) they were just as definitely organized as any other trade. 
They kept a strict control, too, over the unauthorized traffic of 
“ Bonhasinnen ” — maidservants, barmaids, and middle-class 
girls—but their chief complaint was against the unfair compe¬ 
tition of the convents — nun and whore being almost synonymous 
in the language of the day. On one occasion, when scandal con¬ 
cerning a Franconian convent waxed so high that the Pope or¬ 
dered an investigation, the commissioner who was sent reported 
that he had found almost all the nuns in a state of pregnancy. 
The monasteries were also frequently the scene of orgies, and 
homosexuality was widespread among the members of the orders 
of both sexes. 

One strange custom was that of the “ trial-night,” when the 
girl permitted her lover to take every sort of liberty without giv¬ 
ing herself to him. By this means both parties were able to con¬ 
vince themselves of their partner’s qualities, and the result was 
by no means always marriage, which was declined quite as often 
by the girl as by the man. There is a certain resemblance to this 
practice in the “ Fensterln ” or “ Gasseln ” that is to be found 
here and there on the country-side even today — but the point is 
that then it was an established custom, not amongst boors merely, 
but in every circle, even the highest. It was no rarity, indeed, for a 
husband to let a guest lie with his wife “ on honour and faith.” 
Frequently, married men not only had their official concubines, 
but brought up their bastards with their legitimate children. 

In matters of sex, then, there was an utter absence of restraint. 
Indecent and licentious songs were common at public dances (as 
they still are amongst peasants), and kisses and embraces were 
the official form of gallantry. When a spa visitor wished to show 
his respect for a woman (whose acquaintance perhaps he had only 
just made), he simply thrust his hand into her bosom. Men and 
women undressed in front of one another in the calmest manner, 
not only at the baths, but on every occasion. When Louis XI en- 


124 



tered Paris, the prettiest girls in the city were chosen to perform 
all kinds of pastorals before him stark naked. Finally, it is worth 
mention that there were card-sharpers who were officially licensed. 

We have, of course, no excuse to take up a Pharisaical attitude 
over these things — what was then done openly and undisguisedly 
continued to be done later in secrecy and under disguises. But the 
very fact that such things were sanctioned by public opinion is 
symptomatic of the uncontrolledness of the human type of those 
times. 

The whole spirit of the age impressed itself clearly and em¬ 
phatically on the style of dress which then came into fashion. It 
was the clothing of erotomaniacs and perverts, a witches’ sabbath 
of form and colour which is probably unique in the history of 
costume. Women had round holes cut in their robes to display 
their breasts naked — the bosom was forced upward by the belt 
so as to appear fuller, and padding was also employed. The men’s 
skin-tight nether garments were designed to set off their shape as 
much as possible, and even adorned with conspicuous, often gigan¬ 
tic, cod-pieces. In quaint contrast to these exhibitionist fashions 
came the grotesque hoods (“ Gugeln ”) which frequently covered 
the face altogether, leaving only a slit for the eyes. A trait of per¬ 
versity lay in the mode of hairdressing: women wore their hair 
like pages, while men wore coquettish curls, stiffened with white 
of egg, and even pigtails, together with tight-laced and padded 
breasts. Where beards were worn, these were bizarre in shape, 
either forked or quite pointed, with the ends thinned down to 
threads and twisted upward. They were always strongly per¬ 
fumed, and were painted red for choice — for this diabolical 
colour, which at other times carries with it a particular odium, 
had become the favoured mode. The monstrous shoes were also 
given a rakish upward twist, with the toes reaching up to the 
knees perhaps and having to be fastened there with ties. Women 
wore enormous trains and vast coifs, from which long tails trailed 
to the ground; men had sugar-loaf hats or high turbans and 
slashed doublets, from which there dangled fat cords and tassels, 
or long, scalloped strips of cloth. Dresses were embroidered with 
gold, pearls, precious stones, and curious designs of lightning, 
clouds, triangles, snakes, letters, and symbolic signs. The colours 
were bright and arresting, cinnabar-red, grass-green, salmon-pink, 

125 



and sulphur-yellow being greatly liked. It was also important that 
a dress should have a chequered, diced effect, and skirts were, 
therefore, made of coloured patchwork of material sewn together, 
sleeves were slit up to show aggressive linings, women’s trains and 
the above-mentioned scallops on men’s clothing had special pip¬ 
ings, and the legs of a pair of hose had to be of different colours. 
On top of all this came gold pieces or silver bells hung on as orna¬ 
ments, which tinkled with every movement: in a word, it was the 
stereotyped standard fool’s motley as we imagine it today, all 
complete but for the bauble. 

The Looking back over the whole period, we gain the impression 
7tston a craZ y^ terrifying, unreally fantastic spectre of hell, and this, 
we must once more emphasize, applies even to those portions of 
the picture which have the appearance of a comfortably settled 
existence, with an anchorage in practical action. For there, too, 
the realistic life-pose is only husk and mask, the hard, glittering 
shell which conceals a poisonous, rotted kernel. These men took 
refuge in worldliness, not as an end in itself, but to escape from 
themselves. It was thus that the great English poet who, under 
the name of William Langland, wrote his Vision of Piers the Plow¬ 
man saw it all in the second half of the fourteenth century: in that 
poem the age with all its burdens passes before us in a procession 
of staggering visions, which rise verse by verse to an almost un¬ 
bearable climax; and when at last the poet awakes from his 
dream, he can only weep bitterly. 

Tkronei If, now, we had to name a personality which typified in ab- 
brokm breviated but correspondingly convenient form the picture of the 
age, we should find ourselves in a great difficulty; for nowhere 
did the age bring forth such men. It remained one mass, one raw 
material, one lump of leaven, one general seeking and fumbling, 
which at no point crystallizes into conscious clarity in any strong 
individual. To find what we want we must go back almost a cen¬ 
tury, when we shall find two personalities, both of them German 
emperors, who, so to say, pre-embodied the two antagonistic tend¬ 
encies of the age — Rudolf of Habsburg and Frederick II. In so 
far as they anticipated the imaginative life of later generations, 
they both possessed something of genius; although the only sense 
in which one can bring oneself to predicate this of the Habsburger 
is that, by virtue of so intensely concentrating in his own person 

126 



the essential traits of the ungifted and the negatively gifted and 
developing these traits to the utmost degree, one had to regard 
him as having achieved a creative act. Hurrying on in advance of 
his time, he experienced and embodied already the whole ma¬ 
terialism of urban civilization, and that at a time when the rela¬ 
tions of life were still regarded mainly from a romantic angle. It 
was due neither to a curious accident nor to a shrewd volte-face 
in the policy of the electors that such a man came to the throne 
after the Hohenstaufens. Under that dynasty the Kaiser-idea had 
bloomed and wilted and there were then only two possibilities for 
the German kingdom: it must either abdicate for good, or take its 
stand on an entirely new basis, with so radical a change of outlook 
that a negation of what had gone before must perforce result. This 
is what Rudolf of Habsburg did, and, therefore, he was the right 
man for the job. It is obvious that only a person with his qualities 
could tidy up the German empire: a person with a wholly unen- 
thusiastic and unidealist mind, but one which moved with firm¬ 
ness and certainty, concentrated exclusively on the obvious and 
proximate. Rudolf of Habsburg is the first great Philistine of mod¬ 
ern history, the first man with the middle-class point of view to 
wear the royal purple. In him were personified the business man, 
the modern politician, the dynastic profiteer at the rudder of state, 
the man of no prejudices: that is, of no conscience and no 
imagination. 

A peculiar, almost uncanny lack of brilliance surrounded his 
figure and his reign. The man was like his clothes: grey, colour¬ 
less, shabby, insignificant, destitute of figure-head quality. His 
much-vaunted “ homeliness ” had its roots partly in shrewd calcu¬ 
lation — a bid for school-book appeal — partly in small-minded¬ 
ness and avarice, and partly in a complete lack of temperament. 
The Muses contributed nothing to his make-up, he was without 
understanding of or even interest in the arts. He was niggardly 
towards the poets at his court, encouraging them only in so far 
as he scented good publicity value in them. With everyone, in¬ 
deed, his dealings were regulated by the personal profit he could 
extract from them, and he was as quick at foreseeing that profit 
as he was vigorous in holding it. He was, in fact, the prototype of 
the supple and tough, fish-blooded and masterful, experienced 
and unscrupulous self-made man. His Catholicism rested purely 


127 



on policy and neither on piety nor on conviction, let alone bigotry; 
for in this narrow heart there was not even room for fanaticism. 
Like all business men he was scrupulously careful of the outward 
reputation of his firm, but naturally this did not prevent him from 
proceeding to the worst misdeeds and brutalities wherever these 
could be hushed up or extenuated, or from begging and extorting 
on every convenient occasion. Johannes Scherr says of him, very 
pertinently, that in our day he would probably have played with 
the stock exchange like Louis Philippe. He resembles the modern 
financier, too, in his typical stock-exchange sexuality, that vivid 
grossness of voluptuousness which is frequently found in big 
financial men. The number of his legitimate children alone was 
very large, and at sixty-six he married yet again, this time a girl 
of fourteen. But even that was apparently not enough, for “ by 
advice of the doctors ” he kept several mistresses besides. 

History has nevertheless instinctively done right in regarding 
him, in spite of, or rather because of, these dubious traits, as the 
inaugurator of a new age and more particularly as the founder of 
Austria as a world-power. For he did actually create the scheme 
by which Austria became great and could alone have become 
great. He is the originator of the “ Tu, felix Austria, nube ” policy 
and the inventor of those tactics of temporizing, tacking, delays, 
and half-promises which for six centuries proved so successful for 
the Habsburgers. Even so early, his clear eye traced the outline of 
the future Austro-Hungarian state in which Bohemia, Hungary, 
and southern Slavonia were grouped about the firm nucleus of 
the original German countries. He was the triumphant embodi¬ 
ment of a spiritual condition, the usefulness and uselessness of 
which the world at large realized only at a much later date. Kiirn- 
berger was the first to give this attitude a name; he says: “ The 
duty of the Austrian house, Court, and State was not to be, but to 
appear to be.” 

The A figure of quite a different cast is that of Frederick II, one of 
m <mtL t “ e most gifted men who ever wore a crown. In his humane many- 
throne sidedness and far-seeing state policy he r emin ds us of Julius 
Csesar; in his freedom and intellectuality, of Frederick the Great; 
and in his vigour, his spirit of enterprise, and his, shall we say, 
artist’s gaminerie, of Alexander the Great. But all these qualities 
have with him a pronounced tinge of nihilism. His universal com- 

128 



prehension of everything human was rooted less in the knowledge 
that all living things have an equal justification than in the con¬ 
viction that no one is right. His liberty of thought was a form of 
atheism; his fine and superior intellectuality a scepticism; his 
temperament and his vigour a sort of creative loosening of all 
political and religious bonds. He was only a destroyer, though on 
a grandiose and daemonic scale. 

But if Rudolf of Habsburg felt himself to be, so to say, morally 
exterritorial because, in his extreme materialism, ethical points of 
view did not even occur to him, Frederick arrived at a quite similar 
mental attitude by seeing these points of view as far beneath his 
notice. He was practically a “ free mind ” in the Nietzschean 
sense. Endowed with a superb lack of principle and a Classical 
insolence of the type embodied in Alcibiades and Lysander, he 
was, like most “ free minds,” superstitious and addicted to astrol¬ 
ogy and necromancy. He weighed all the affairs of life with the 
cool eye of a fatalist who moves like a chessman at the bidding of 
a blind and often absurd necessity. But this side of his nature was 
in no wise inconsistent with an eminently scientific brain. He en¬ 
couraged study and research of an order which in contemporary 
opinion was either valueless or impious, founded universities, 
libraries, and the first zoological garden, possessed a truly passion¬ 
ate interest in natural science, himself wrote an excellent ornitho¬ 
logical treatise, and tried to draw into the sphere of influence of 
his court all who were progressive, intellectually inspiring, and 
philosophically minded. In poets, indeed — though he was him¬ 
self among the first to write Italian verse — he never saw anything 
but political tools; as tools, however, he used them in an incom¬ 
parably broader and more intelligent way than ever Rudolf did. 
Withal, he had a firm conviction of his divine right of kingship, 
though to the great bewilderment of the mediaeval he called it a 
natural necessity. As is well known, he preferred Saracens to 
Christians. These cool and polished men of the world, with their 
refinements of diplomacy and love-making, their tolerant and al¬ 
ready somewhat senile philosophy, their highly developed algebra, 
medicine, astronomy, and chemistry, were of necessity more akin 
to his own nature. His conduct in Palestine is unique in the his¬ 
tory of the Crusades. Excommunicated by the Pope, and unsup¬ 
ported and even attacked by the crusading Orders, he yet achieved 


I2Q 



more positive results than his predecessors, simply by amicable ne¬ 
gotiations with the Arabian Government. It soon became obvious 
that the Sultan was just as well-educated, well-behaved, and dis¬ 
cerning a cavalier as the Emperor, and a solution of the Palestine 
problem agreeable to both was speedily reached. But sensible, 
natural dealings have never had any great charm for mankind, 
and Frederick’s contemporaries did not thank him for his blood¬ 
less victories in the Holy Land. 

Tht Everyone has heard of the saying attributed to him, that the 

^ ree three greatest deceivers who ever lived were Moses, Christ, and 
Mohammed, and it has ever been alleged that a treatise, De tnbus 
impostoribus, was written by him. (The latter is certainly un¬ 
true, and even the saying has never been proved.) Another time 
he is said to have exclaimed, on seeing a cornfield: “ How many 
gods will be seen arising out of this corn! On being asked by a 
Saracen prince at mass what the monstrance stood for, he is sup¬ 
posed to have replied: u The priests pretend that it is our God. 
These words, again, are probably legendary. And yet there is a 
hidden truth in such anecdotes which survive stubbornly through 
the centuries ; “ E put si muovs is not historical, neither did 
Luther ever say: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” What 
these legends do prove is that these men might have said these 
words, that indeed they ought to have said them. They serve the 
purpose of making the actual situation more consistent and im¬ 
pressive and are in a sense truer than the truths of history. The 
same applies to that remark about the three impostors. The Em¬ 
peror’s meaning was probably this: “ I see the descendants of 
Moses ceaselessly sinning against the Ten Commandments; I see 
the disciples of Mohammed living contrary to the Koran; I see 
the followers of Christ hating and murdering in His name: and if 
that is so, then are all three religions — Judaism, Islam, and 
Christianity — one great imposture.” On the other hand, it is quite 
unlikely that he intended by this any attack on the persons of the 
the three founders; to do that he would have had to be either a 
fanatical religious desperado or an enlightened imbecile of the 
modern sort. He was neither; indeed, the thing that most as¬ 
tonishes and baffles us about him is precisely his complete and 
thoroughgoing religious indifference. He neither hated nor at¬ 
tacked any of the three monotheistic confessions — all three left 


no 



him equally indifferent. Even the conviction that a creed is worthy 
of being cursed is tantamount to a sort of creed in itself, but Fred¬ 
erick believed in nothing. “ Tout comprendre c’est tout mepriser,” 
as Nietzsche said — with a difference — and it was this mepris 
for positively everything which was the devastating root-emotion 
of Frederick’s soul. 

It is easy to see why this unfathomable personality roused as 
much horror as admiration in its time. Some called Frederick the 
Wonder of the World, stupor mundi; others saw in him the Anti¬ 
christ. Gregory IX began an encyclical with the words: “ Out of 
the sea there came forth a beast covered with names of offence, 
with the feet of a bear, the throat of a roaring lion, and in all other 
parts like to a panther. Examine well the head, body, and tail of 
this beast, which calls itself emperor.” But the people made him a 
national saint, an imperishable saga-figure. It was said that he did 
not die, but would come again one day and overthrow the Papal 
throne, erect a kingdom of glittering splendour, and be a saviour 
to all the oppressed and heavy-laden. From time to time spurious 
Fredericks continued to appear, the last occasion being in 1546. 

Then again it was told that he was asleep in the Kyffhauser 
cavern and it was not until the prosaic nineteenth century that this 
legend was transferred to his far less important grandfather 
Frederick I, whose red beard has been growing round the marble 
lake ever since, for the delight of all headmasters. 

But in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Europe was Coinciien, 
simply peopled with little Rudolfs and Fredericks. Now, material- °M ont °n 
ism and nihilism spring from much the same state of mind. Both 
of them deny the workings of higher powers of our existence: 
nihilism because it no longer believes in them; materialism be¬ 
cause it does not yet believe in them. The one and the other are 
morbid phenomena, pathological aspects of life: nihilism because 
it stands too far from reality, seeing it in too distant a perspective, 
so that everything is blurred in shadowy mist and fog; material¬ 
ism because it stands away too little from reality, seeing it in too 
close perspective, so that large and essential features become un¬ 
recognizable. Nihilism suffers from dilatation of the heart when it 
recognizes an equality of everything, which is as good as saying 
nothing; while materialism fails from constriction of the heart, 
taking account of nothing but things directly tangible and 

131 



Nicolaus 

Cusanus 


accessible to the coarsest senses — that is, the worthless and unim¬ 
portant things. Both standpoints represent an un-serious view of 
existence; both are without foundation or root. The Philistine is 
just as much in the air as the free-thinker. 

And it is this which constitutes the secret inward bond between 
these two tendencies. In their effect and outward appearance they 
are poles apart, two completely opposed outlooks on life; for of all 
the possible formulations of reality, these are the two which differ 
most. We ask, therefore, how it was that two such flat opposites 
could exist in the same age, and even in the same person; and, in 
asking, find the answer to lie in the idea of the age, the idea that 
filled and dominated this whole incubation period; and now we 
are in a far better position to discuss it, since for the fixation of 
representative personalities in that age we must have recourse to 
artificial expedients and makeshift constructions. The basic idea 
of the age was, in short, this: that life consisted in the union of two 
apparently quite irreconcilable opposites, and human beings were 
nothing but the meeting-point of two opposing influences. 

This basic idea was formulated with illuminating distinctness 
by the greatest, perhaps the only, philosopher of the age. Nicolaus, 
called Cusanus from his birthplace at Cues near Trier (d. 1464), 
was the son of a poor Moselle fisherman, became one of the most 
versatile scholars of his age, and rose to be an influential prince of 
the Church. He played a decisive part in the theological contro¬ 
versies of his century, championing the modern or Conciliar view, 
which he put before the Council of Basel in his great work: De 
concordantia catholica. (His principal opponent was John of Tor- 
quemada, who, in his treatise Summa de ecclesia et eius auctoritate 
laid down the lines that Papal doctrine followed for centuries after¬ 
wards.) Nicolaus Cusanus was also the first to dispute the genuine¬ 
ness of the Donation of Constantine, which was subsequently 
exposed as a forgery by Laurentius Valla. Amongst his works is 
a conversation on religion in which he argued in favour of the 
union of all confessions: Christian, Jewish, Turkish, Indian, and 
Persian. In his De reparations calendarii he drew up a scheme of 
calendar reform which anticipated the Gregorian, and he taught 
that the earth was round and turned on its own axis. In his phi¬ 
losophy he was, as a former pupil of the Deventer fraternity, to 
some extent a mystic; but as his teaching system also found room 


132 



for certain trains of thought taken from Scholasticism and natural 
philosophy, he was claimed by a variety of different schools as their 
own product. In other words, he was a comprehensive spirit of the 
stamp of Leibniz and Hegel, and he assimilated the entire cultural 
content of his time into an organic unity within himself. 

It was on his return in 1438 from Constantinople, where he 
had been as Papal ambassador, that the basic principle of his phi¬ 
losophy dawned on him — the coincidentia oppositorum: that is, 
everything that is, lives and takes effect by reason of being the 
point of intersection of two opposite forces. One such coincidentia 
oppositorum is God, who represents the absolute maximum (for 
He is all-embracing infinity) and the absolute minimum (for He is 
contained in everything, even the smallest). Another coincidentia 
oppositorum is the World, which as regards the individual exist¬ 
ences in it forms an immeasurable plurality, but as a whole forms 
a unity. Every individual also is a coincidence of opposites, for not 
only is it contained in the All, but the All is contained in it: in om¬ 
nibus partibus relucet totum. Another is the human being, who as 
a microcosm, a “ parvus mundus,” combines within himself all 
imaginable contrasts — and knows that he does so — mortality 
and immortality, body and soul, bestiality and divinity. Another 
is, finally, Cusanus himself, in that he reconciled religion with 
natural science and the patristic with the mystic: in that he was a 
careful guardian of the old and a fiery herald of the new, a man of 
the world and a seeker after God, a heretic and a cardinal, the last 
of the Schoolmen and the first of the Moderns. 

But how this all-round concordance of the apparently hostile, 
this agreement of the opponents, is reached remains a divine mys¬ 
tery which we cannot fathom by reason, but only by transcen¬ 
dental vision: by an inner process, that is, which Cusanus — 
again, as usual, coupling two contrasting factors — describes as 
docta ignorantia, comprehensio incomprehensibilis . The phe¬ 
nomena of magnetism and electricity were not yet known to him, 
otherwise he would have been able to extract from them the most 
important and speaking proofs for his doctrine of polarity. Taking 
all in all, what he introduced into philosophy is really the principle 
of creative paradox, which he traced out and exemplified in every 
domain of inward and outward experience and incorporated in the 
most telling fashion in his own life and work. 

133 



Dual truth, 
double- 
entry 
bookkeep¬ 
ing, coun¬ 
terpoint, 
and Dance 
of Death 


It was remarked at the close of the last chapter that mediaeval 
man makes a contradictory impression upon us. But the contra¬ 
dictions that there concerned us and those of the men of the incu¬ 
bation period differ essentially. For at first these contrasts all 
arose out of one great unity, faith, and had besides an objective 
existence for the observer only — the people themselves were 
not aware of them. Now it is different: the contemporaries of 
Cusanus were well aware of their contradictions and suffered under 
them. Through all the phenomena that the age produced there 
runs a break, a split, a great seam, the feeling of a world-ruling 
dualism — the man of two souls makes his entry into history. 

We have already said that it was not until this era that the 
dualism between town and country comes sharply to the surface. 
From now on we have two contrasted cultures, a knightly and a 
mercantile one. The first is concentrated in the Burg, the second 
in the Burger. And it is about the same time that the doctrine of 
twofold truth appears in theology, the theory that one and the 
same proposition may be right in theology and wrong in philos¬ 
ophy. The Middle Ages had held grimly to their great unity: “ I 
believe what I know, I know what I believe ”; but now for the 
first time there was opened that chasm between the scientific and 
religious attitudes which yawns through the whole course of mod¬ 
ern history. “ Yawns,” I may well say, for it is an uncomfortable 
and often extremely wearisome proceeding to follow the strainings 
of the priests, politicians, artists, philosophers, and scientists who 
deal with this question, and whose deductions are mostly sophisti¬ 
cal, now artificially and superficially reconciling the two expe¬ 
rienced forms of faith and knowledge, and now driving them into 
opposite extremes. But at the same time the view that that “ two¬ 
fold truth ” is mere Jesuitry is just one of the many shallow 
misjudgments of Liberal history-writing; what we should see in 
it rather is a new determinant of the general outlook. Here too, as 
the Occamist doctrine of discrepancy shows us, we are dealing 
with one more of the many formulations of the coincidentia op~ 
positorum idea. Regarded in the light of this idea, every basic 
theological problem — the Fall and the Day of Judgment, the 
Incarnation and Virgin Birth, the Last Supper and the Resur¬ 
rection— should have two conflicting views, and the supreme 
truth could only be attained by uniting them. It was in this same 


134 



period, too, that dualistic technique took charge in a very different 
sphere from that of theology — namely, commercial arithmetic. 
Under the newly-invented system of double-entry bookkeeping, 
far tit a doffia, loi digrafhique, the usage of entering every item on 
two opposite pages made every account a coincidentia offosi- 
torum. But the most striking experience of the new world-outlook 
is found in music, where the mediaeval principle of monody gave 
way to polyphony, and Counterpoint reached its complete develop¬ 
ment. The earliest classic of the new style was John Dunstaple, 
who died in London in 1453. We also find a manifest symbol of the 
coincidence of opposites in the “ Dances of Death,” the danses 
macabres, which in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries provided 
the subject of innumerable graphic and dramatic productions. 
Here Death plays the fiddle while youths and greybeards, women 
and children, peasants and bishops, kings and beggars, fools and 
saints, and every imaginable type of humanity dance madly round 
and round. A more impressive picture of the way in which the men 
of those days looked upon life could hardly be drawn. Death and 
dancing became brother and sister, and the most drunken affirma¬ 
tion of life was at the same time a staggering towards the grave. 
It is thus that the whole age passes before our eyes — a crazy 
dance of those marked down by death. Its much-vaunted joy of 
life was the euphoria of the madman. 

Our picture would still be incomplete without the mention of a 
third tendency, not the most important, but undoubtedly the most 
impressive of the whole era. Materialism and nihilism may stand 
for the two antagonistic forces in the double soul of these centuries, 
but here it is a question of something more like an oversoul, which 
hovered calmly and mysteriously in blissful secrecy over the age. 
This something was mysticism. 

To all appearances the Devil ruled the world in those days; 
men believed it to be so, and we ourselves can hardly escape the 
same feeling. But it was not so: the truth is that he never has ruled 
and never does rule the world. God was not dead then any more 
than now, He lived as powerfully as at any time in the souls of 
straying, seeking mankind. A whole new wild and fervent piety 
burst from the depths of the human soul just at that time. Plain 
men of the people had all sorts of portentous visions. A Strassburg 
merchant, Rulman Merswin, reverted to the original doctrine of 

135 


T) 

oversoi 



the universal priesthood of all Christian believers and declared the 
divinely favoured layman, the “ Friend of God,” to be the chosen 
imparter of heavenly grace. Taking this as their collective title, all 
those who took their Christianity seriously formed a union with 
no other bond than the purity of their mode of thought and the 
intensity of their yearning for salvation. One element above all 
now asserted itself in the religious movement — women, who up 
till then had remained almost entirely in the background and, only 
a short time before, had been declared by eminent religious 
teachers to be without souls. These women, awakened to religion, 
began to record their visions and trances and their mysterious ex¬ 
periences in contact with God, in letters, diaries, and memoirs; 
and in this way there grew up a wholly distinctive literature of 
ecstatic confession and self-revelation. Before long they too as¬ 
sembled in convents of their own and became known as Beguines 
or “ praying sisters.” Later on they were joined by the male Beg- 
hards, and great mystic collective experiences followed. Here we 
are in the presence of a weighty fact of cultural history we shall 
frequently meet again: the fact that great spiritual movements and 
emotional revivals very often originate among women. A woman 
possesses a natural flair for everything that may germinate, every 
kind of secret growth, everything, in fact, which is of the future 
rather than the present. This almost telepathic sense is usually 
more developed in her than in a man. She is also far less conserva¬ 
tive and less one-sided than a man, who forms in himself a self- 
contained and definitely outlined unity. He is the born profes¬ 
sional and expert, but a woman is a multiplicity of things; her soul 
is open to all possibilities, she has that gift of being everything, 
transforming herself into everything, which in men is the attribute 
of genius only; hence it has often, and rightly, been asserted that 
there is something feminine in every man of genius. 

All the religious phenomena of that age arose out of one basic 
common will, the will to find the way back to God — not to the 
Church’s God, hidden under a thousand outward ceremonies and 
obscured by a maze of intricate syllogisms, but to the deep, pure, 
serene source itself from which all life flows. Within the Church 
the main supporters of this movement were the monastic orders, 
above all the Do min icans and Franciscans. As has ever been the 
way, they began their reform of the Christian life and faith with a 

136 



return to the early Christian doctrines and customs. The Domini¬ 
cans took the more moderate view that men must restrict them¬ 
selves to “ necessary ” things in following Christ; but the Fran¬ 
ciscans went all the way, teaching that no one could be saved 
who did not abjure the world and seek to become an image of 
the Apostles in his way of life, and this rule, they insisted, applied 
above all to the earthly successors of Peter, the popes. Small 
wonder that Pope John XXII declared their teaching to be he¬ 
retical. In the matter of preaching, on the contrary, it was the 
Franciscans who aimed at keeping in close touch with the world. 
They wanted to work on the people and therefore relied on plastic 
vividness and force, rejecting neither coarse realism nor harsh 
satire as means to their end. The Dominicans, on the other hand, 
became the classics of mystic philosophy. Their brightest light was 
Meister Eckhart, one of the most profound and universal intel¬ 
lects that Germany has ever produced. 

Eckhart is a curious cross between the crystal-clear thinker, 
the poet of incomparable power and plastic and original language, 
and the religious genius. His teachings, banned by the Curia after 
his death, constitute a Summa of all mystical speculation. Natu¬ 
rally, he was an agnostic—he says of truth that were it compre¬ 
hensible, it could not be truth. The godhead is enthroned in 
impenetrable darkness, motionless, calm. We can only make 
negative assertions about it, as, for instance, that it is infinite, un¬ 
fathomable, uncreated; every positive predicate turns God into an 
idol. God is not this or that. Anyone who imagines he has known 
God or has formed for himself any figure whatever of God, may 
indeed have known “ something or other,” but not God. “ Thou 
shouldst know Him without the help of any picturing, mediation, 
or analogy.” “ If I ought to recognize God without mediation, 
then surely I must actually become He, and He I! ” “ But that is 
just what I mean! God must actually become I and I actually 
become God.” “ The smallest creative picture formed within thee 
is as big as God. Why? It takes from thee a whole God. For in the 
moment when this picture enters into thee, God, with all His 
godliness, must make way for it. But when this picture goes out, 
God comes in. And is it going to do thee any harm, friend, that 
you allow God to be God within thee? ” “ Never has man so longed 
for anything as God has longed to persuade man to be one with 

137 


The net 
religio 



God. God is ready at all times, but we are very unready; God is 
near to us, but we are far from him; God is inside, we are outside; 
God is at home with us, we are strangers with Him.” To achieve 
pure contemplation of God, even union with him, to become 
“ godded,” all that is needed is to be still . Man must be silent that 
God may speak, man must suffer that God may take effect. All 
creatures are a sheer nothing: there is only God and not, as our 
unreason believes, God and the creature. Therefore we must strip 
off our creatureness. This we can do by “ seclusion ” — that is, by 
liberation from all sensuality— and by poverty. A poor man is he 
who knows nothing, wants nothing, and owns nothing. As long as 
man craves for any particular thing, he is not yet really poor — that 
is, not yet really perfect. Therefore, our prayers, too, must be con¬ 
cerned with God only, not ourselves — he who prays for some¬ 
thing prays for a nothing. The truly pious can also well dispense 
with the Church’s grace, for to him every dish is a sacrament. It is 
not confession, going to mass, or the like that matters, but the 
birth of Christ within us. Even Mary’s holiness consists not in 
that she bore Jesus physically, but because she bore Him spirit¬ 
ually, and therein every human being can imitate her at any time. 
Virtue does not consist in a doing, but in a being. Works should 
not sanctify us, but we them. But only those works will be holy 
which are done on their own account. “ I maintain definitely: 
as long as thou executest thy works for the sake of heaven, of 
God, or of thine own salvation, thou art certainly not on the 
right way. It will be possible to tolerate thee, but it is not the best 
thou canst do.” Man can attain to any heights if only he has the 
will, for the will is all-powerful: “ No one can hinder thee except 
thyself.” 

These scanty quotations will no doubt suffice to show that 
what Eckhart and his school achieved was nothing less than the 
birth of a new religion, a complete transcreation of the previous 
Christian faith, in comparison with which the Lutheran Reforma¬ 
tion stands as an earthquake to a geological recasting, or as a 
purifying and fertilizing storm to a world-change of climate that 
calls a new flora and fauna into existence. Had this movement 
succeeded, a new world-age would have dawned for Europe; but 
it was suppressed by the Church, and with a measure of success 
which is less a reproach to the Church’s quite logical protection of 

138 



its own interests than to the obvious unripeness of European 
humanity for a rebuilding of shaken foundations. 

Mysticism contains two basic elements: an ecstatic and a 
practical. These elements appeared in unbalanced but immensely 
expressive forms in Johannes Tauler of Strassburg and Heinrich 
Suso of Constance respectively. Tauler, who acquired the cogno¬ 
men Doctor sublimis, is not the equal of his master in depth and 
acuteness of speculation, but it was not in these things that, for 
him, the centre of gravity lay. What he preached, endlessly and 
with rare force and spirituality, as the one thing needful was the 
unconditional following of Christ. “ Let no one suppose that he 
must necessarily fly up to the heights of the Godhead. Let it be 
that he has been a righteous, perfect, and practised man, leading 
an effective life and bravely following the life of Christ. So let a 
man set before him the mirror that is without a flaw, the perfect 
picture — namely, Jesus Christ, according to whom all his life 
shall be arranged, inwardly and outwardly. . . . All things must 
become as bitter as the former pleasure in their existence was 
sweet.” Suso, on the other hand, was so luxuriant a preacher of the 
new wisdom that he was called God’s Minnesinger. In the centre 
of his lyrical rhapsodies stood the mystic idea that the soul was 
the bride of God, thirsting fervently after Him. “ Who will give 
me,” he cried, “ the heavens’ width for a parchment, the ocean’s 
depth for ink, the leaves and the grass for pens, that I may write 
out my heart’s passion in full? ” For eight years he wore a cross 
studded with nails on his naked back “ in praise of his crucified 
Lord.” 

Another influence was Johann Ruysbroeck, founder of the 
abbey of Groenendael, who was regarded by all his fellows as a 
marvel of divine illumination. He recorded his inspired ideas in a 
number of works characterized by a peculiar heavy kind of beauty 
and a simple profundity. When the Veronese saw Dante in the 
street, they used to say to their children with a shudder: “ Eccovi 
Vuom ctie stato all’ Inferno (There is the man who has been in 
Hell).” Just so the contemporaries of Ruysbroeck must have felt 
the profound thrill of knowing one who had been in Heaven. He 
combined the serenity of a child to whom everything is still clear 
with the far-sightedness of an old man who can send glances into 
the beyond. His works are picture-books which are able to portray 


The school 
of Eckhart 


139 



The 
“ Frank- 
fort er ” 


the most hidden things. The Church bestowed on him the title 
Doctor ecstaticus; his countrymen called him Vadmirable, and 
when he died, in 1381, at the age of a hundred and seven, all the 
bells in the neighbourhood began to toll of themselves. One of his 
disciples was Gerhardt Groot, who founded the lay order of the 
“ Brethren of the Communal life ” at Deventer, a free union of 
believers whose sole aim it was to encourage a Christian way of life 
and the moderna devotio, the new devotion to God as taught by 
the mystics. Soon there sprang up similar brotherhoods in all parts 
of Germany and the Netherlands, and it was from their ranks that 
Thomas a Kempis came, whose Imitation of Christ is, after the 
Bible, the most widespread book on earth, is read eagerly by Cath¬ 
olics and Protestants alike, and has been translated into all- 
European and numerous non-European languages. It popularizes 
the doctrines of the great mystics in a very noble, free, and power¬ 
ful manner, and in it the Quietist element comes out with all im¬ 
pressiveness and clarity. “ So far as thou mayest, hold thyself aloof 
from the confusions of men. Why do we so gladly chatter with 
others, since it is but rarely that we can return to silence without 
injured conscience. I would that I had oft been silent and oft not 
among men.” Too much hair-splitting and argument does no good. 
“ Rather would I find repentance and atonement within myself 
than be able to argue as to the nature of repentance. For all is mere 
nothingness and vanity, save loving God and serving Him alone.” 
“ He is truly great who is small unto himself and counts great hon¬ 
ours as nothing. He is truly wise who regards all temporal things as 
mud, so he may gain Christ. And he is truly learned who loses his 
own will and learns to do and fulfil the will of God.” 

But the finest monument to the spirit of the age is found in the 
anonymous Little Book of the Perfect Life (Buchlein vom voll- 
kommenen Leben). Luther, who republished it, says in his 
preface: “ Above all, this little book warns those who wish to read 
and understand it that they should not judge it over-hastily, be¬ 
cause some of the wording may appear wrong and out of the 
accustomed manner of preachers and teachers. And, verily, it does 
not float on the surface like foam on the waves, but is called from 
the bed of the Jordan by a true Israelite, whose name God knows.” 
And again, two years later: “ And, to commend my good old gos¬ 
sip once more, never have I met with a book, apart from the Bible 

140 



and St. Augustine, from which I have learnt more and still intend 
to learn of the meaning of God, Christ, and all things that be. 
Please God this little book may become better known, and then 
we shall realize that German theologians are undoubtedly the best 
theologians.” This short work, covering little more than five sheets, 
is in fact one that everyone should read, high or low, wise or simple, 
learned or ignorant, for it appeals to all. It should be not only 
universally read, but carefully studied, inwardly experienced, and 
preferably learnt word for word by heart; for it is of all documents 
one of the most illuminating on human heights and depths, 
grandeur and humility. This being so, it is a task of quite peculiar 
difficulty to attempt to reproduce the basic ideas of the work in a 
few words. 

Man ought to become perfect. But what is perfection and what 
is makeshift? The perfect is the one entity which embraces and 
holds in its being all entities; whereas the makeshift or imper¬ 
fection is that which has issued from this perfection or is becoming, 
as a glow issues from the sun or from a candle, and appears as 
something, as this or that. And that is called a creature. Sin means 
only that the creature has turned aside from this perfection, this 
unchangeable good, and turned to the particular, the changeable 
and imperfect and, above all, to itself. Therefore, if the creature 
assumes into itself any God as being its own, this constitutes a 
falling away. “ What else did the Devil do, in what else did his 
falling away or his downfall consist, but in assuming that he too 
was something and wished to be something, and that something 
was his own and his due? And what else did Adam do but just 
this ? They say that it was because he ate the apple that he was 
lost or ‘ fell but I say that it was on account of this assumption 
of his: this 4 1 ’ and ‘ me 5 and ‘ mine ’ and the like. Had he eaten 
seven apples, he would not have fallen, but for his assumption.” 
The soul of man has two eyes. One is the gift of looking into eter¬ 
nity, the other that of looking into time and into created beings, 
and of distinguishing among them. And one single glance into 
eternity is more pleasing to God than anything that His creatures 
may achieve merely as creatures. He who achieves that glance 
will inquire no further: he has found the kingdom of God and 
everlasting life while still on earth. He has the imuard peace of 
which Christ spoke, which prevails over all opposition and 


141 



perversity, against oppression, poverty, and shame. He has the 
quiet which enables him to be joyful in the manner of the Apostles, 
and indeed of all chosen friends of God and followers of Christ. 
The “ old man,” as we know, stands for Adam, for disobedience, 
egoism, somethingness, and other such things. He who lives in his 
egoism and according to the “ old man,” is called, and is, a child 
of Adam. Let him live in it long enough and essentially enough, 
and he becomes a child and brother of the Devil. “ All of this may 
be summed up in this short sentence: See that you be thoroughly 
detached from yourself.” The same applies to following after 
Christ. He who leads a Christian life with the object of achieving 
or earning any thin g will do so as if for hire and not for love; 
which is to say, he does not really lead the life. God would rather 
have a single genuine worker for love than a thousand hirelings. 
As long as men seek what is “ best ” for them, they will not find 
it. For then they only seek themselves and imagine that they 
themselves are the best. But as they are not the best, they are not 
seeking the best while they seek themselves. To those who have 
tasted perfection, all created things are of no account, themselves 
included. And so, for the first time, a genuine inner life arises. 
Then, as they make steady progress, they find God becoming man, 
until finally there is nothing that is not God or of God. “ That we 
may escape from ourselves and die as to our own self-will, living 
only for God and His will, to this may He help us who gave up 
His will to His heavenly Father, Jesus Christ.” “ Here endeth the 
Frankforter.” 

The author, “ whose name God knows,” was in fact a member 
of the Teutonic Order of knighthood, and in his last years cus¬ 
todian of the German Herrenhaus at Frankfurt-am-Main. The 
book was written about a generation after the death of Eckhart 
and just about as long before that of Ruysbroeck. It was placed 
on the Index like all the other mystical writings; but the spirit 
which inspired it has appeared again and again for mankind, 
notwithstanding a hundred excommunications. When Luther in 
later life became a prince of the Church himself and reverted to 
many an ancient dogma and ceremony, the book found other 
adorers. It was resuscitated by Sebastian Franck, the greatest 
Protestant mystic of the Lutheran age, a heretic within heresy, 
so to say; it was cherished in circles of the Pietists; it became a 

142 



favourite book with Schopenhauer, who placed “ the Frankfur¬ 
teras he called him, beside Buddha and Plato. And it will still 
make many an appearance, waking up hearts and heads, for it is 
a book which, like the Bible, was really and truly written by God. 

Now, there is a very remarkable relationship between this 
mystical speculation and the painting of the period. We shall fre¬ 
quently notice, and at a later stage examine more closely, the fact 
that the arts of form, and, above all, painting, are nearly always 
first in the field with the expression of new symptoms that are 
dawning in the soul of the age. Painting is at any moment — not 
always, but nearly always — the most modern of artistic forms of 
expression. The present case is an instance of this. The lonely 
individual thinkers visualized linkages which were far in advance 
of contemporary humanity’s power of comprehension, and the 
pictures of the great German and Flemish masters are painted 
mysticism. Of course, the materialism and diabolism of the age 
made a strong impression on painting. In portraits, every tiny 
wrinkle in the face, every tiny hair in the fur, every thread of the 
coat, is registered with minute and often pedantic literalness. 
It not infrequently happens that we are strangely moved and 
alarmed by the positively gallows-bird physiognomies, full of 
fiendish perversion and devilish perfidy, and the coarse gestures, 
full of brutality and covetousness, which meet our eye, not merely 
in pictures where the subject would call for them (as in scenes of 
peasant life or martyrdom), but in some entirely unsuspected con¬ 
text. For instance, in the “ Adoration of the Child ” by Hugo van 
der Goes, the praying shepherds give the impression of convicts 
taken to Sunday service. Hans Multscher of Ulm was a masterly 
portrayer of exciting, vivid scenes of grotesque infamy and brutal¬ 
ity. In his panels of the Passion he managed to get together whole 
ant-heaps of callous ruffians and tricky footpads. The engravings 
of the anonymous “ Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet,” again, 
are a complete zoology of monstrous Calibans. There is no trace 
of humanity left in his brawling peasants, sneaking pimps, ragged 
vagabonds, and gaping libertines, with their stupid bird-faces and 
vile and degraded pig or tapir snouts. Even in serious and digni¬ 
fied subjects the figures are often strikingly ugly. Jan van Eyck’s 
Eve in the Ghent “ Adoration of the Lamb ” is anything but ideal¬ 
ized ; with her sloping shoulders and feeble extremities, her hanging 

143 



bosom and prominent abdomen, she is the worthy ancestress of 
the then existing race of man. But it is not the realistic crea¬ 
tions that are either the great or the representative works of the 
age. The real high-lights are those works in which the world of 
Eckhart, Ruysbroeck, and Suso turn into colour. As new media 
of expression are always found when the will to express is strong 
enough, so it was just at this point that the brothers van Eyck 
discovered oil-paints, which did not dry as quickly as tempera 
colours and so made possible, and thereby opened to the brush, 
new refinements in mixing, grading, and the distribution of light 
and shade. The result was a hitherto unattained brilliancy of 
colouring: rich embroidered brocades, shimmering silks, jewels, 
gold tissue, armour, and precious woods combined to produce an 
effect of dazzling and fabulous splendour. The greatest of these 
psychologists were: in Flanders, the elder van Eyck and Rogier 
van der Weyden; in Germany, Stefan Lochner and Hans Mem- 
ling. The composition of the painting is often strangely reminis¬ 
cent of theatre scenery: trees, hills, and houses are seen plane-wise 
like the “wings ” of the stage, and the vista is like a back-cloth 
let down. Everything has the look of having been taken from a 
toy-box: we are not only in a theatre, but in a toy theatre. This 
impression is particularly strong, for instance, in Memling’s so- 
called “ Seven Sorrows of Mary.” There we have a whole town, 
most skilfully built up with walls, gates, towers, flights of steps, 
alleys, and cloisters; but it all strikes us as a set of cardboards for 
models or a child’s box of bricks. And the personages seated in 
these picture-book surroundings have also something primitive 
• and theatrical about them, with their wooden though dramatic 
gestures, their chess-board positions, their stiff, awkward, doll- 
like carriage, and their gorgeous, ample robes — which indeed 
seem to us to be the principal thing about them, for these big 
self-supported folds strike us as something quite apart from, 

something more alive, richer, and more emotive than the bodies 
that they clothe. 

But there is a secondary effect more mysterious than this. 
Occasionally (in early spring, about midday in s umm er, after 
prolonged watching or fasting, or even, maybe, without any visible 
cause) people and things and we ourselves appear to us intangible, 
as if surrounded by an inexplicable isolating aura. Nothing can 

144 



get through to us; everything, even our own body, seems to have 
forfeited its own oppressive reality, its claim to acceptance by the 
senses, and to have become weightless and immaterial. It is into 
this spiritual climate that we are transplanted by the pictures of 
the Flemish and Cologne schools. These lean, serious men, these 
austere and delicate women, with their slim, sad hands and their 
frightened up-all-night faces, all live in an imaginary world: far¬ 
away creatures, wrapped in their pensive melancholy and yet sup¬ 
ported by a blessed eternal assurance. They grip us, these figures 
compounded of deep confidence in an all-pervading divine pres¬ 
ence and constant fear before the deceptive hostile uncertainty 
of all earthly things. They are paralysed in the fearful presence 
of a life which persistently torments every creature; they look out 
into existence with questioning, faltering, incredibly astonished 
eyes and cannot see where they stand for the inarticulate and 
indefinite terror that is in them. “ So that is the world? ” they 
ask. In their childlike helplessness and angelic lucidity they are 
citizens of a loftier realm of dreams, which strikes us as distant 
and strange and yet, again, as like our own home. The world — 
the world of things and deeds — is not completely put away or 
deliberately ignored; it is there, but simply outside. It shines in 
through the high windows in ravishing landscape forms, in moun¬ 
tains, cities, and castles, rivers, mills, and ships, but always as if 
seen through a telescope — not belonging, as it were. It flutters 
round the soul only like an unreal vision or a shadowy memory; 
but the soul, untrammelled by space, rests in God, though still on 
earth. Time seems to stand still, too. Past and future are one with 
the present; in God’s eyes, they are not moving at all. “ And be¬ 
hold,” says Meister Eckhart, “ everything is one Now! ” 

Taking all in all, we discover a striking resemblance to our 
own age. No one will seriously dispute the statement that we live 
in a period of epidemic psychoses; and differences of opinion con¬ 
cern only the significance of these phenomena. Already the close 
of an age has its fin de siecle man, with his typical disequilibrium 
due to an excess of soul. The Plague corresponds to the World 
War; and if anyone still doubts that the first was a product of the 
age, no one will be found to deny it in the case of the second. (We 
can naturally ignore the “ war-guilt question ” here; it is merely 
a question for elementary schoolchildren, since no war could arise 

145 



between two groups of powers of equal strength unless both sides 
desired it.) Then, again, we have today the great dissolution of 
the former dominating powers which characterized the decline of 
the Middle Ages. The ideal which inspired the political life of the 
last generation was Constitutionalism. It is now as completely 
outlived as is the Kaiser-idea; neither the Right nor the Left 
takes it seriously. The progressive idea on the one hand is the dicta¬ 
torship of the proletariat and that on the other is the dictatorship of 
an individual or Csesarism. What the Church was to the Middle 
Ages, official science, the organization of the learned, has been to 
the last few centuries. The whole mediaeval culture was clerical; 
all the great creative things were the work of the clerics. They held 
in their hands not only art, science, and philosophy, but the su¬ 
perior crafts, national agriculture and industry. They constructed 
not only cathedrals and theological systems, but streets and 
bridges too. They not only brought education and moral to the 
people, but turned the woodlands into arable land, and drained the 
swamps. Wherever life showed progress, there we find them at 
work, whether it was a matter of book illumination and aristo¬ 
cratic dialectics, or of stable fodder and three-field cultivation. The 
same dominating intellectual position has been held by the guild of 
scientists during the last few generations. It has claimed — just 
as in its day the Church had claimed — to be in full and sole 
possession of the truth and therefore entitled to dictate dog¬ 
matically to all and sundry in every rank and walk of life: to the 
artist, the research-scholar, the soldier, the business man, the 
workman. It has been in the fullest sense of the word our religion: 
that in which we really believe. It has possessed and still possesses 
a well-organized and carefully graded hierarchy of high and low 
dignitaries, lacking only the pope. It persecutes with parsonic im¬ 
placability and short-sightedness every description of heresy, and 
watches jealously to see that no one dispenses its grace who has 
not taken its holy orders: the examinations. But the power of the 
Church had rested upon two conditions: that it was really in pos¬ 
session of the spiritual hegemony, and that its servants were filled 
with genuine idealistic strivings. At about the turn of the Middle 
Ages these two foundations began to disappear: culture fell more 
and more into the hands of the laity, and the majority of the 
clergy performed their duties in a mechanical and banausic man- 

146 



ner. On top of this came the dawning of a new world-picture which 
was in entire opposition to the Church’s teaching. Today the 
learned professions find themselves in precisely the same situation. 
People have lost faith in them, except in the lower social strata 
and among the intellectually reactionary. Their claim to be a 
world-wide catholic teaching body, a universitas, is no longer 
tenable. They do not now lead in any cultural sphere. They give 
birth to no infallible Apostolic Fathers, great confessors, or bold 
martyrs, but only to mass-produced officials, lip-servers, and in¬ 
cumbents in whom there lives, not the Holy Ghost, but the pro¬ 
fane desire for bread and honours. 

In art, too, there are certain common features: in both cases 
there is a strong tendency to realism in the lower branches, side 
by side with an equally strong stylistic intention in the realm of 
pure poetry and painting. Particularly noteworthy in this respect 
are the mystery and passion plays of the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries, some of which are magnificent. Through these there 
runs the clear purpose to create typical drama which is to count 
not for once, but for always, to show not the events in the life of 
men, but in that of man: deed and sorrows, the descent into Hell 
and the Redemption of the whole race. Strangely enough, here as 
in expressionist drama, emotion not infrequently turns into un¬ 
conscious caricature. The want of representative personalities is 
also common to both eras. Here, as there, we find only Lenins and 
Ludendorffs, Liebknechts and Mussolinis, who s im ply absorb the 
perversities of the age as in a concentrating mirror and reflect 
them back again. And in contrast to the scarcity of prominent 
masculine capacities we have the determined attitude of woman, 
who in both cases takes up a position that for centuries has been 
denied her. That the middle classes are today in a situation 
similar to that of mediaeval chivalry will hardly be disputed. That 
theosophic tendencies take up more attention today than for a 
long time past is common knowledge. Indeed, the similarity ex¬ 
tends even to certain externals, as, for instance, mixed bath¬ 
ing, which up till a few years ago offended the proprieties, the 
fashion of indrawn waists and padded chests for men, and 
bobbed hair for women. And most probably our century will seem 
as ghostly and unreal to a later age as the fourteenth century 
to us. 


147 



World's 

dawn 


In his admirable research into the idea of the Renaissance, 
Konrad Burdach writes: “ Unlimited expectation in men’s souls 
— that is the basic feature of the fourteenth century.” It is 
precisely that which we described at the beginning of this chapter 
as the world’s-end attitude. Karl Kraus, too, in a fanatically im¬ 
aginative, superhumanly delineated work which will permanently 
preserve the traits of our age, sees it apocalyptically as “the 
last days of humanity.” But the world does not come to an end, 
often as it has been expected to do so, and such moods as this are 
usually followed by the reverse of what they suggest: they portend 
in fact the arising of a new world and of a new way of seeing and 
understanding it. 


148 



CHAPTER IV 


LA RINASCITA 

“ Beauty is the revelation of laze.” 

Leon Battista Alberti 

“ Problem ” and “ fact ” are the names of the two great poles 
between which all human intellectual activity moves. What we 
do not yet feel to be a fact we call a problem; what we no longer 
feel as a problem we call a fact. But just as every problem tends 
towards melting into a fact, so every fact secretly tends to take 
refuge in becoming a problem again. In this endless but rising 
series of crystallization and sublimation, condensation and solu¬ 
tion, consists the true inner history of the human race. 

But out of this there arises, for the historian who surveys 
the marked-off culture-periods, a curious paradox. Each of these 
ages disposes of a certain store of problems and facts of its own 
creation, which are peculiar to itself alone, support and mould its 
whole existence, and are its life-destiny. But the facts which were 
established by the science and philosophy of those buried cultures, 
and were as a rule their greatest pride, appear to the eye of a 
later day as extremely problematical; while, on the contrary, the 
problems with which those earlier centuries wrestled represent 
for us even now perfectly positive cultural-historical facts. 

A French thinker once said: “There is nothing more con¬ 
temptible than a fact.” We might add: or anything more uncer¬ 
tain and ephemeral. All the “exact” conclusions reached by 
former times have vanished again, securely as they seemed to be 
based on clean reasoning and keen observation. And it will be 
precisely so with our own. The only thing about our cells, nebulae, 
sediments, bacilli, ether-waves, and the rest of our science’s basic 
concepts that will interest a future world will be the fact that we 
believed in them. Truths are not lasting. It is only the souls that 
stood behind them that will last. And while every human philos¬ 
ophy is destined one day to have “no more than a historical 


Th 


149 



interest,” our interest in human history will never cease to be a 
philosophical one. 

Culture Therefore we measure the power and height of a Culture not in 

in wealth t ^ ie ^ east by its “ truths,” “ positive achievements,” and tidy par- 
of -problems cels of knowledge. What we ask for, in weighing them, is the 

intensity of their spiritual metabolism, their supplies of living 
energies. And just as the physical capacity of man does not de¬ 
pend on his girth, but on the strength and rapidity of his move¬ 
ments, neither is the life-force of the soul of an age determined by 
any other factor than its mobility and elasticity, the inward 
adaptability of its parts, the lability of its equilibrium: in short, 
by its wealth of problems. There lies the real sphere of spiritual 
productivity, and this is also the reason why the religious and ar¬ 
tistic cultures come over into the succeeding age, while the purely 
scientific eras possess only a passing vitality. Science im proves the 
general economy of existence, discovers new laws which simplify 
a little the equation of life, makes our planet a rather more com¬ 
fortable and less fatiguing place of abode; but we accept her gifts 
as if they were bread and apples, with a certain animal satisfac¬ 
tion, without thereby rising to a higher state of mind or receiving 
the impulse towards a richer spiritual activity. The actual results 
of the human intellect, its finds and its hits, contain no tonic, noth¬ 
ing which quickens the pulse of our personal existence. We “ lay 
them to heart,” we say, but our contact with them is a matter of 
simple addition, not of multiplication, still less of exponents. The 
creations of art or religion, on the contrary, for all that they have 
done nothing to perfect the machine of life — have indeed fur¬ 
ther complicated the already sufficiently ambiguous business of 
existence, and helped to upset the sureness of the life-feeling on 
which man instinctively relies—have nevertheless always had 
at their disposal a secret capital of spiritual vigour; they are like 
wine, which frees our molecules to fall into a more rapid vibra¬ 
tion, sends fresh blood coursing to our head, and quickens the 
whole of our circulation. 

Then there have been whole eras which have the insipid taste 
of chemically pure water; we feel them to be too distilled, too 
clarified, we take no pleasure in them. They are deficient in prob¬ 
lems. If an era is to have anything to say to posterity, it must be 
a living spring, containing not only the general elements of water, 

150 



but various saline, insoluble elements besides, from which alone 
they acquire body, aroma, and colour. 

The Italian Renaissance was an era of anarchy as regards its 
intellectual constitution, an era which no longer believed and had 
not arrived at knowing. And yet we have the feeling that life in 
those days must have been beautiful, rich, and vigorous. 

So far we have hardly mentioned Italy. This was intentional; 
for Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was a world to 
itself. Many causes contributed to the isolation in which this 
country developed. Pure geographical reasons first of all, and 
these were of far more importance then than now. The peninsula, 
politically split up as it has been during its whole middle and mod¬ 
ern history, was always inwardly united because its natural bound¬ 
aries secured it very markedly and definitely from the rest of 
Europe: in the north were the Alps, and on the other sides the 
sea, while the Apennine chain runs across the greater part of its 
surface like a broad backbone, binding its various regions firmly 
together. Nature’s favours, too — the great fertility of the soil, 
the mild climate (a happy mean between North and South), the 
abundance of navigable rivers, the wealth of beautiful and useful 
plants — give the whole land a certain homogeneity and at the 
same time elevate it above most other European regions. And this 
harmony was disturbed neither by a mixture of languages nor by 
a divergency of nationalities. The Italian folk-character is uni¬ 
form, unique, and uninterchangeable; so fascinating a combina¬ 
tion of good nature and perfidy, liveliness and laziness, form¬ 
feeling and untidiness, frivolity and bigotry, naivete and cunning, 
superficiality and talent, is to be found nowhere else in the world. 
And nowhere does art stand so naturally in the centre of life, 
nowhere is musicalness so obviously a national dowry, nowhere 
are the people such born actors, and nowhere is existence so 
wholly adjusted to eye, temperament, and fancy. No country has 
such a past or such a capital — a city that has twice been for 
centuries at a time the brain and heart of Europe: first with the 
Roman Caesars, then with the Roman bishops. Lastly, no country 
has so well-built and beautiful a language: sparkling and sono¬ 
rous, varied and clear in form, with soft liaisons and pleasing 
cadences — a language which can only be called a natural song. 

Actually Italy was always an urban land. From Etruscan days 

151 



until the present, all decisive events have run their course in the 
towns. Rome in antiquity was called simply: Urbs, the city; 
Roman history dates itself ab urbe condita; the Christian Church 
of the West called itself the Roman Church after the same city, 
and in the Renaissance there were only city-states. Italy’s cul¬ 
ture was always an intellectual, well-mannered, urban one in 
contrast to the limited, rustic, agrarian culture of most other 
European countries; and we have seen in the previous chapter 
what a trenchant difference this means. There is the further con¬ 
sideration that Italy’s towns were in fact all seaports, even when, 
as in the case of Rome or Florence, they were not directly on 
the coast; and nowhere does the curiously free, clear, and active 
mind characteristic of urban populations develop more richly and 
intensively than in the cities of the sea. But this strong common 
bond in origin, language, temperament, faith, history, and other 
conditions of life never amounts to uniformity in Italy. There 
were always enough characteristic differences between Lombards, 
Venetians, Tuscans, Umbrians, and others to make social, artistic, 
and political life extremely polychrome and to maintain a fruitful 
spirit of competition. 

The historical conception of the Renaissance has been greatly 
“ Latin confused by the haphazard application of the name to a series 
formation » 0 f cultural tendencies which have little more in common than the 

fact that they were contemporary. We talk of a Northern — that 
is, a German, English, Netherland—Renaissance side by side 
with a French and even a Spanish. All such expressions are mis¬ 
leading. Nevertheless, they have dug themselves in, and we, too, 
shall have to use them, though remembering always that these 
are mer efagons de parler. In countries outside Italy the movement 
was no more than an external “ reception ” of certain style- 
principles of the Italian High Renaissance, the “ Classical ” or 
Latin, as it is called; but under this thin lacquer and coating 
national feeling still lived on with unimpaired vigour. In follow¬ 
ing the subsequent progress of European art one must always dis¬ 
tinguish, quite clearly and unambiguously, this “ Latin forma¬ 
tion ” that runs through all the strata of the geological structure, 
but varies greatly in extent in individual periods. It cropped out 
in Italy about the year 1450, and there had a reign of roughly a 
century; but by 1500 it had reached France, where it permanently 

152 



maintained itself, despite the style-transformations over the rest 
of Europe, as the true French style — even in the height of the 
Baroque, of which Viollet-le-Duc, the leading art historian of 
France in the middle of the nineteenth century, could say that: 
“ Louis Quatorze clot la renaissance ” But even this did not go 
far enough, for the Classical style persisted in France until the 
Congress of Vienna and even (as for instance in Ingres and 
Puvis de Chavannes) later still. Much the same might be said 
of French literature, which in its essential traits always remained 
Classical — for the Latin spirit lives just as much in the Roman¬ 
tics who fought it, as in the clear, cool architectonics of a Mau¬ 
passant or a Zola. The German Classicism of the eighteenth cen¬ 
tury was something altogether different from this; it leaned more 
towards the Greek and should really be called German Hellenism, 
while, as for England and the Netherlands, there has never been 
a real Classicism in those countries at all. We must postpone a 
closer inquiry into these points until we meet them in the march 
of history and be content for the moment to observe that the 
ghost of the Classical has frequently visited our continent in 
the course of the centuries (having never really vanished from 
the European vista), but that the length of its stay has varied in the 
various countries, and the forms it has taken have always pre¬ 
sented great differences. But that which is understood in Italy 
by the rinascita was and remained entirely limited to that coun¬ 
try, so that from the point of view of cultural history we ought 
strictly to speak of an Italian Renaissance only. The Italians 
themselves felt this very definitely. They were conscious of em¬ 
bodying a floraison of culture and manners such as no other na¬ 
tion in the world possessed, and for that reason — just like 
the Greeks and from a similar instinct — called all foreigners, 
whether Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Englishmen, or Moors, 
barbarians. 

Here again it becomes essential to propound the question: 
When did the Renaissance begin? 

In one of the most famous passages of his Discourse on the 
Dignity of Man Pico della Mirandola makes God say to the son 
of Adam: “ I have set thee in the midst of the world so that thou 
mayst the more easily see what is therein. I have created thee 
neither a heavenly nor an earthly, neither a mortal nor an immortal 

153 


rebirt 

godlikt 



being, so that thou mayst be thine own sculptor and mayst chisel 
thy features thyself. Thou canst degenerate into an animal; but 
thou canst also by the free will of thy spirit regenerate thyself 
a godlike being.” This, visibly, is the primary meaning of the 
Renaissance: the rebirth of man in the likeness of God. In this 
idea there lay a colossal “ hybris ” unknown to the Middle Ages, 
but also a tremendous spiritual impulse such as only modern 
times can show. At the moment when this idea appears on the 
horizon, the Renaissance begins. Now, this idea had already 
pervaded the Trecento, and almost all the Italian writers of the 
Renaissance, when they survey the Italian revival in retrospect, 
designate the age of Dante and Giotto as the epoch, the turning- 
point, or the great beginning. Particularly Vasari, the first his¬ 
torian of Italian art, groups the three centuries — Trecento, Quat¬ 
trocento, and Cinquecento — as one unit of a grand national 
movement. Writing in 1550, he says that Cimabue made a start 
with his " nuovo modo di disegnare e dipignere,” and he goes on 
to differentiate between three sections: parti, or spaces of time: 
eta, which substantially correspond to the three centuries. The 
first to come after the “ barbarism of the Goths ” were the new 
Tuscan masters in whom art was rediscovered, resurrected, re¬ 
born. The significance of these expressions — “ ritrovare,” “ ri- 
sorgere,” “ rinascita ” — in this context is manifest; only later tra¬ 
dition has made them the special labels of the high Renaissance. 
The word “ rinascimento ” came into use much later and was 
unknown to Vasari, as was the now stereotyped word “ Renais¬ 
sance,” which dates back no farther than Voltaire and the En¬ 
cyclopaedists of 1750. And Burdach, in his recent close and ex¬ 
haustive study, has arrived at the same conclusion as the oldest 
Renaissance historian: “ The picture of new life, of rebirth,” he 
writes, “ dominated already the age of Bonaventura, Dante, 
Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Rienzi. It was active throughout the 
fifteenth century, and in the sixteenth became an idea of fixed 
validity. . . . To exclude the fourteenth century in this con¬ 
nexion is arbitrarily to set aside the many statements and views 
of contemporary historical witnesses.” 

Farewell Taking all in all, we are forced to the conclusion that the 
Middle conception ” of the new age occurred in Italy, as elsewhere, 

Ages about the middle of the fourteenth century. It was then that 

154 



Rienzi produced his grand scheme for the political rebirth of 
Rome; that Petrarch and Boccaccio developed and carried out 
their program of a literary revival of the Classics; and that there 
came into being the “ new style of painting,” which made it its 
main business to seek spirituality by way of intimate and devout 
absorption in human emotions and destinies. With Dante’s death 
the Middle Ages in Italy reached their end. Burdach indeed goes 
so far as to see in Dante the true originator of the Renaissance. 
This, however, is a view we are unable to take. It seems to us 
rather that it was precisely Dante that was the form in which the 
Middle Ages — with one last terrific gesture which threw its 
minatory shadow over the coming centuries — said farewell to 
humanity. It is as if, at the end of their earthly span, they sought 
once more to gather up in one tremendous throw all that they had 
to say. Had nothing remained of the Middle Ages but Dante’s 
poem, we should still know everything we could ever know of that 
mysterious world. His unfathomable song stands at the thresh¬ 
old of the new age like a huge black monument in bronze, an 
eternal reminder of the silenced past. So magical and incommen¬ 
surable was the power of this superhuman seer that his picture, 
though but a comprehensive symbol of the past, nevertheless puts 
every newer picture in the shade. Only the Middle Ages could 
have provided the spiritual premises for this miracle, which both 
concentrated all the knowledge of the age in a purely artistic form 
and lifted it into the sphere of faith. The Divine Comedy is, 
in every verse, encyclopaedia, sermon, and dramatic epic in one. 
This sublime unity of faith, knowledge, and poetic creation could 
only have been achieved by a mediaeval mind. It has been the un¬ 
realized dream of all artists ever since; but even to attempt such 
a creation in our time would only be the undertaking of a mad¬ 
man, for the conditions of our culture will first have to be changed 
from the foundations up. 

There are, of course, many arguments against the assumption 
that the Italian Renaissance set in so early, especially when (as is 
usually the case) the arguments are based exclusively on its art 
history. It is in fact quite as easy to include Giotto and the 
Giottesques in the Middle Ages. The deliberate decorativeness of 
their composition, the naivete of their execution, their joy in the 
anecdotal, their stylistic treatment of the animal world and 

155 


Chronol 

of 

Renaissc 



Italy's 

start 


landscape backgrounds, and, in short, the picture-book character 
of their painting generally, all combine to give them a mediaeval 
look. Even an impressive work like the “ Trionfo della morte,” 
where the figures are extraordinarily powerful, is really only 
Dante in paint — congenial paint — although it probably belongs 
to the later Trecento. And that is why most art historians make 
the Renaissance begin only with the Quattrocento, some even 
with the second half of that century, and they are not entirely 
in the wrong. Others take refuge in such conceptions as Early 
Renaissance, pre-Renaissance, or proto-Renaissance. But the dif¬ 
ficulty is easily disposed of when we remind ourselves that there 
had been a political, a social, and, above all, a literary Renais¬ 
sance while that of the arts of form was still in its infancy. When 
painters and sculptors and even architects were still cautiously 
feeling their way, detaching themselves only hesitatingly from the 
Gothic and hieratic, the Humanists were in possession of a strict 
and complete Renaissance program. We shall come back to their 
remarkable doings later. 

Although the new movement in Italy set in at about the s am p 
time as in the North, its reception in that country was very dif¬ 
ferent. Everywhere else the new conceptions and their implica¬ 
tion induced a condition of complete disorientation, but in Italy 
life at once became enriched and broadened and more purposeful. 
This was because humanity in that country was in almost all 
respects generations ahead of the rest of Europe. If when we have 
been thinking of the “ incubation period ” we transport ourselves 
to contemporary Italy, it is like passing from grey and misty twi¬ 
light into full sunshine. Up in the North everything is clouded 
and gloomy, clumsy and unfinished, confused and slow-moving. 
Here we step into a completely different world. 

The first point that meets us is that Italy has struck the mod¬ 
ern note in society and politics much sooner and more decisively 
than other countries. Chivalry and feudalism have vanished with¬ 
out a trace. Schopenhauer’s two “ Christian-Germanic stupid¬ 
ities, the point of honour ” and the “ lady,” had also disap¬ 
peared. Love is mere sensual gratification, or else a loftier spiritual 
unity, but never a matter of sentimentality. The vassal had been 
replaced by the condottiere, for whom war was no romantic ideal, 
but a workaday profession and business which, having learnt, he 

156 



sold to the highest bidder; that is, he supplied battles as the shoe¬ 
maker supplied shoes and the painter portraits, the personality 
and viewpoint of his client being a matter of complete indiffer¬ 
ence. Personal differences were not settled by the complicated 
proceeding of the duel, but by a brawl, by hired bravoes, or, best 
of all, by poisoning, the technique of which had been brought to a 
fine art. Tournaments were to the Italians, as to their Roman 
ancestors, a vulgar sort of show for which slaves or actors were 
good enough. Wars, too, were a purely financial matter. Anyone 
who could afford enough mercenaries was in a position to rush 
his political or commercial rivals at any time. But the citizen 
never thought of taking a weapon in his own hand; he had better 
things to do. Business, domestic politics, science, art, pleasure, 
and social intercourse took up too much of his time for him to 
dream of devoting himself to time-stealing military training. And 
not only the professional soldier, but the fire-arm became a domi¬ 
nating factor in Italy earlier than elsewhere. Statesmanship had 
already become Realpolitik, a cool and subtle weighing of the 
deciding factors, supported by a clever and perfidious diplomacy 
which, especially in Venice, attained to a perfection of virtuosity. 
All our characteristic modern state-forms were also fully devel¬ 
oped, from the extreme democratic republic, in which the “ sov¬ 
ereign people ” ineptly ruled, to the plutocracy, that modern form 
of the tyrannis, which disdains the outward insignia of power in 
order to rule the more securely by shrewd intrigue and adroit 
party-leadership, by magnificence in patronage, and by the ir¬ 
resistible absolutism of capital. 

Although an extraordinary rise in the standard of economic 
life characterizes the age all over the Continent, it nowhere went 
so far as in the great Italian trading centres. For the Northern 
races the transition to the money economy had been, as we have 
seen, incomplete and hampered by many moral and practical 
obstacles; but in upper Italy and Tuscany this early capitalism 
was already in its flower, having benefited by a succession of dis¬ 
coveries which immensely lightened and activated mercantile in¬ 
tercourse. Even today mercantile terminology employs almost 
pure Italian phrases, a reminder that the Lombards were the 
originators of these useful devices. Economics acquired organized 
purpose, foresight, and system. In his Rules of Life Alberti says: 


The heyi 
of ea 
cafitah 


157 



“ E ufficio del mercante e d’ogni mestiere, il quale ha a contrattare 
con piu persone, essere sollecito alio scrivere, scrivere ogni com - 
pera, ogni vendita , ogni contratto, ogni entrata, ogni uscita in 
bottega e fuori di bottega; sempre avere la penna in mano.” The 
merchant with a pen in his hand — here was something quite 
new! 

As early as the fourteenth century the great Florentine bank¬ 
ing-house of the Peruzzi had sixteen European branches, stretch¬ 
ing from London to Cyprus, and its commercial connexions 
penetrated into central Asia. The Florentine gold piece {fiorino 
d’oro) was the most valuable and esteemed coin in the whole of 
the West. Besides the Peruzzi there were the Capponi, the Bardi 
the Pitti, the Rucellai, and the Strozzi — familiar names, some of 
these from the splendid palaces that have immortalized them. 
The fabulous rise of the Medici did not begin until the fifteenth 
century, but it did not take them long to become the foremost 
financial power in Europe. Their only close rivals were the Pazzi, 
famous for the great conspiracy in 1478 in which Giuliano de’ 
Medici fell. The attack took place within the cathedral during 
mass —' and the Pope was one of those who had a hand in the 
game. One of the Pazzi threw himself on Giuliano and stabbed 
him so furiously with his dagger that he inflicted a considerable 
wound on himself. The insurrection was overcome m the course 
of the day, and the rule of the Medici more firmly established than 
ever. We see that plutocracy then differed essentially from the 
plutocracy of today; it was an affair of heroic passions and fanati¬ 
cal daring, and lives were risked for the hegemony of the firm. 
Our own great rival commercial houses, on the contrary, confine 
themselves to the tamer methods of bribing voters, buying j ournal- 
lsts, and inspiring questions in parliament. In Rome the Chigi 
were the supreme banking-house. They financed a succession of 
popes, and their chief, Agostino Chigi, was a friend of Raphael and 
the buffder of the Farnesina —“a merchant in earning,” men 
said ‘ but a king in splendour ” — and shared with Lorenzo de’ 
Medici the surname il magnifico. The commercial rivalry between 
Venice and Genoa, which was fought out so bitterly and so bril- 

' m ] his P eriod > is familiar to all. But what makes the finan¬ 

cial life of all these city republics unique in their own age is its 
far-seeing vigour and grandiose indifference to conscience. In the 

158 



centre of the business moral (if this contradiction in terms is per¬ 
missible) stood money-making as an aim in itself, as a passion 
capable of forming a life, as the strongest mode of expression of 
the will-to-power. And nothing is more characteristic of Italy’s 
economic life than the fact that the Jews played only a very sub¬ 
ordinate part in it. They were not needed — the native business 
talent was far greater even than theirs. 

All this hangs together, as we have seen, with the development 
of the urban life. Italian cities were by that time real cities, some¬ 
thing quite different from the Northern, which looked like 
walled-in mediaeval villages by comparison. If we compare Bruges 
with Venice, Cologne with Milan, Lubeck with Genoa, or even the 
Paris of that day with Rome or Florence, we have the impression 
of passing from a dark and crooked side-street to a broad, airy 
avenue. We have seen in the previous chapter that the architects 
and artists made little effort to improve the decoration and com¬ 
fort of private houses, but devoted themselves almost entirely 
to public buildings, such as churches, town halls, municipal 
markets — an obvious residue of the mediaeval collectivist feeling. 
But in Italian towns it was quite otherwise. There, individualism 
had made great progress, and everywhere there arose palaces, 
villas, and private chapels which combined regal splendour and 
exquisite taste. The wealthy decorated their halls with the most 
precious paintings, and their tombs with magnificent monuments, 
the erection of which they superintended with care during their 
lifetime. In the Northern cities the characteristic building was, 
then as before, the cathedral, but in the Italian, the palazzo. 
Further, in Italy class prejudices were very considerably weaker. 
We have only to look at the rise of the Medici: a family of middle- 
class parvenus who never aspired to as much as the outward 
tokens of nobility, but for generations maintained their sov¬ 
ereignty over the most powerful, flourishing, and cultured city in 
the peninsula solely by means of their money, virtuosity in the 
handling of men, wit, and talent for brilliant display. In other 
parts of Italy also, the modern nobility of talent had triumphed 
over the mediaeval nobility of birth. At Milan the condottiere 
family of the Sforza had risen to the highest dignity; in the 
Papal domain any man who possessed sufficient force and shrewd¬ 
ness could become a duke or a cardinal; and even in Venice, 


Renaisi 


159 



that relatively aristocratic community, the patriciate consisted 
in the main of tradesmen who had made fortunes. But it must 
not be forgotten that all these rulers had such extraordinary 
inward noblesse and natural capacity for command that their 
origin ceased to matter. Without possessing any positive human 
greatness, they had an incomparable moral grandezza. 

Comfort This was evident even in the externals of life: in domestic 
splendour and comfort, in decoration and equipment of every sort. 
The framework in which they lived their lives was not only richer, 
but more refined than elsewhere. It was a sincere, mature, and 
unforced setting. It was unostentatious, proportioned, harmoni¬ 
ous, and, above all, choice, by which we mean physiognomically 
indicative of the possessor. In the North, on the contrary, men’s 
surro unding s were impersonal, conventional, haphazard; parvenu, 
overloaded, accentless, childish, clumsy, and rustic. A superior 
Italian dwelling-house was unthinkable without large, bright 
rooms and high, airy windows, costly rugs and arrases, hangings 
of gold-worked leather or patterned silk, furniture of precious 
woods, valuable pictures in artistic frames, marble fireplaces, and 
decorated ceilings, majolica, bronzes and ivories, crystal vessels, 
fine linen, and splendid oriental embroideries. Then there were 
the broad, paved streets — the Italian’s greatest delight — with 
already many a carriage-and-pair; the country villa with its grot¬ 
tos and fountains, gardens and avenues, an institution completely 
unknown to the Northerner, who had not advanced beyond a poor 
garden and shack, where the townsman could keep chickens, grow 
vegetables, and spend a few hours of his evening. Lastly, the 
Italian had cultivated the art of the toilet and cosmetics — un¬ 
guents and beauty-lotions and perfumes, hair-preparations and 
coiffures — to an extent which would startle even our own day. 

Artistic The luxuries of the table were also on a much higher level than 
elsewhere. Meals were served with an artistic, decorative, and 
recreative rather than a culinary motive, being primarily de¬ 
signed to please the eye, not the palate. The following is a descrip¬ 
tion of a famous feast given at Naples in 1476 by the Florentine 
Benedetto Salutali: As hors d’ceuvre each guest had a small dish 
of gilded cakes made of pine-apple kernels, and a majolica bowl 
of milk pudding; then came a galantine of breast of capon deco¬ 
rated with coats of arms and mottoes; the dishes set before the 

160 



guest of honour had a fountain in the centre which sent up a fine 
spray of orange-water. Then came various meat dishes, including 
venison, veal, chicken, ham, pheasant, and partridge, and pre¬ 
sented with these was a large silver dish of little birds, which flew 
out when the lid was lifted, and artificial peacocks, which spread 
their tails and burned fragrant incense in their beaks. For dessert 
there were various sweet dishes: tarts, marzipan, and dainty little 
cakes. There was Italian and Sicilian wine, and between every two 
guests lay a list of the fifteen vintages provided. At the end 
scented water was provided for the washing of hands, and a great 
pile of green branches was set up which, impregnated with costly 
essences, perfumed the whole room. On comparing this dinner 
with the meals described in the foregoing chapter, we feel that we 
have come from a peasant’s wedding to a court banquet. At 
another feast, given in Rome by Lorenzo Strozzi, the guests were 
received in a darkened room hung with mourning; skulls adorned 
the walls, and skeletons shone with ghostly light from the four 
corners. In the centre was a black-covered table laid with two 
skulls and four large bones. The servants lifted the skulls and dis¬ 
closed fresh roasted pheasant, and between the bones lay sausages. 
No one dared to eat except the Pope’s court jester, Fra Mariano, 
a famous glutton whose appetite was proof against superstition. 
After the guests had recovered from their alarm, the folding doors 
opened and a brightly lighted room was seen decorated to repre¬ 
sent the starry firmament. On taking their seats the guests had a 
fresh surprise. Dishes and bottles jumped up from under the table 
before each of them without any mechanism being visible. Agos- 
tino Chigi, the banker mentioned above, once gave a banquet 
in Rome at which he had all the gold and silver vessels thrown into 
the Tiber after use. This would suggest Russia, were it not that the 
whole thing was a farce, the banker having had nets placed along 
the shore to enable the vessels to be fished up again. At an¬ 
other feast, when the Pope was present, Chigi had a special fish 
served that had been brought alive from Constantinople. On leav¬ 
ing, the Pope said to him (with the witty and exquisite courtesy 
tha t is only possible in Renaissance Italy): “ I always thought, 
Agostino, that we were on a more intimate footing.” Agostino 
replied: “And the modesty of my hospitality has confirmed 
your Holiness’s supposition afresh.” All these accounts go to 

161 



show that eating was anything but the chief interest of these 
meals. 

The world. In our search for individualities in the North we drew almost 
a blank. Italy, on the contrary, one might say without undue ex¬ 
aggeration, shows practically nothing but individualities. Where- 
ever we look — in the plaques and portraits; in the monuments 
and coins; in the biographies, letters, speeches, and memoirs; in 
politics, philosophy, art, and society — we see innumerable sharply 
defined heads and unique physiognomies, consciously original 
types and determined, not to say obstinate, profiles. Take, for 
instance, the Medici medallions, faces complicated even to ugli¬ 
ness and full of double meaning, refusing to yield up their ulti¬ 
mate secrets. Or, choosing at hazard, take the two popes painted 
by Raphael. First, Julius II, il pontefice terribile, a powerful per¬ 
sonality exuding strength at every point; syphilitic, sodomite, 
general, and despot, of whom Hutten said that he tried to storm 
Heaven when he was refused admittance. He lived at peace with 
no one, made war on all his neighbours, rode in the thickest rain 
of bullets, planned to reconquer Constantinople and Jerusalem, 
pulled down old St. Peter’s because it did not please him artisti¬ 
cally, endorsed simultaneously the festival program for the 
Roman carnival and the arrangements for his own funeral, and 
had a choice of eight different wines brought to him even on his 
death-bed. Yet he was the only Pope to leave his hoarded treasures 
in Sant’ Angelo to his successor instead of to the rapacious 
nephews; and he was also the one great man of his time who 
recognized the greatness of Michelangelo. Side by side with him 
we have the commonplace figure of Leo X, il papa Lione: short¬ 
sighted, short-necked, fat, constantly perspiring, puffing and blow¬ 
ing ; supported by two servants when he walked (or rather dragged 
his heavy body along); lethargic and sleepy; particularly prone to 
nod during the polished lectures of the Humanists; but enthusi¬ 
astically awake to insipid jests or empty pageantry, and a gour¬ 
mand by proxy, taking huge delight in watching his court j ester 
consume masses of eggs or* quantities of pheasant; and an incred¬ 
ible spendthrift (it was said of him that, had he lived longer, he 
would have sold Rome, Christ, and himself), who did not leave 
enough to pay for the candles at his funeral. Yet his reign was 
known as the Golden Age, because Rome was at that time the 

162 



admired focus of European culture and because Humanists in his 
pay extolled him as the splendid patron, although art had come 
to this high flowering without him and even in some ways against 
his will. And even posterity, though without financial incentive for 
complaisance, has accepted the fraudulent title without demur. 

The pen, indeed, begins now to be a dominating force in gen- Birth 
eral and we witness both the first vigorous strides of the press and the reV0 ‘ 
its ultimate and most logical form of being — the “ revolver 
press.” At first the standard was set by the whole social phenom¬ 
enon of the Humanists, who, in spite of their meritorious work in 
raising both the general standard of culture, and interest in the 
Classics in particular, were undoubtedly a moral plague; for by 
both example and precept they taught that unabashed insolence, 
absolute lack of principle, measureless self-flattery, dialectical 
juggling, and complete unscrupulousness in the choice of the 
weapons of controversy were the chief means of arriving at fame 
and success. With a complacency and directness which even today 
could only be equalled in a gutter press, these men made a practice 
of selling their opinions; and all the devices employed by the 
present-day press were handled by them in their day with an ac¬ 
complished virtuosity — the twisting of facts and suspecting of 
motives; the intrusion into private life; the apparent objectivity 
which makes the attack so much the more telling; the hidden stab 
which is but an earnest of the open one to follow; and so on. 

Already, too, they quarrelled among themselves with exceeding 
bitterness; their power, then as today, lay not only in their art, 
their facility, and their success in putting difficult subjects into 
popular and pleasing form, but also in their control of material 
that was only accessible as a whole to themselves. The only differ¬ 
ence is that now it is news matter (so-called) that it is the priv¬ 
ilege of the papers to circulate, whereas then it was a question of 
imparting the rediscovered material of Classical culture. In so far, 
they stood above the modern journalists, for not only were they 
almost all extraordinarily learned, but they had an enthusiasm 
for the Classical which amounted to a craze; and, therefore, de¬ 
based as they were morally, it is impossible to deny them a certain 
idealist quality in their intellectual aims. Of course, many of them 
were morally quite irreproachable personalities, and others, again, 
developed such vigour and ingenuity that even posterity cannot 

163 



fail to see in them veritable giants of their trade. Two of them in 
particular have become as immortal as Raphael or IVIachiavelli; 
namely, Vasari, to whom reference has several times been made, 
and Pietro Aretino. Vasari’s dictatorship of taste had an unchal¬ 
lenged validity such as no critic has since enjoyed. He was himself 
a practising painter, and incidentally a fairly mediocre one, thus 
providing one more of the many instances of a critic being born 
of creative impotence. In addition, he combined with these activ¬ 
ities the business of an art-dealer, and in this again he has many 
followers. Even so intransigeant a character as Michelangelo real¬ 
ized what he owed to a Vasari, and on receiving a copy of his work, 
replied at once with a decidedly flattering sonnet, although he was 
anything but impressed by the contents and particularly by the 
information and criticism concerning his own work. But all who 
dared to oppose Vasari’s critical outpourings, or failed to rank 
him as an artist with the greatest of his time, were persecuted by 
Viim with the utmost rancour and unfairness. In such cases he did 
not even stop at forgery, and he made many an artist literally im¬ 
possible by these means. 

The divine Still more dreaded was the “ divine Aretino,” father of the 
Aretino moc Jem publicist, of whom the people asserted, not without reason, 
that he had the evil eye. He drew pensions simultaneously from 
the two great rivals Charles V and Francis I and received rich 
presents also from other potentates — the kings of England, Hun¬ 
gary, and Portugal and many a smaller prince. Even the Sultan 
sent him a pretty slave-girl. But quite apart from that, he was a 
finished technician in the art of intellectual extortion. As an ex¬ 
ample we need only record his dealings with Michelangelo. He 
began by writing letters expressive of his great admiration for the 
master’s art, dwelling at the same time with great skill on his own 
powerful position: “ I,” he wrote, “ whose praise or blame can do 
so much that almost all recognition and depreciation is bestowed 
by my hand, I, whose name inspires respect in every prince, have no 
other feeling for you but that of reverence. For there are kings in 
plenty, but only one Michelangelo! ” In consideration of which he 
proceeds to ask for “ some little bit of his drawing.” Michelangelo 
fulfilled his request, but the gift seems not to have been to Are- 
tino’s liking, for after a few further exhortations, which remained 
unanswered, he sent Michelangelo an absolute model and gem 

164 



among dunning letters, in the course of which he says: “ Sir, now 
that I have seen the whole of your £ Last Judgment,’ I recognize, as 
far as the beauty of the composition is concerned, the grace for 
which Raphael was famous. But as a Christian, who has received 
the holy baptism, I am scandalized by the unbridled licence with 
which you have permitted your mind to approach that which 
forms the content of our highest religious feelings. This Michel¬ 
angelo has become so masterful, I suppose, because of his great 
fame, that he would show people that in him piety and faith are as 
completely lacking as art is perfect. Is it possible that you, who in 
the consciousness of your godlike eminence, do not condescend to 
mix with ordinary mortals, could bring such things into God’s 
highest temple? ... A luxurious bathroom, and not the choir 
of the holiest of chapels, is the place for such paintings. . . . But 
indeed, if the pile of gold bequeathed to you by Pope Julius, so 
that his earthly remains should rest in a sarcophagus of your 
making, could not keep you to the observance of your duties, how 
can a man like me square accounts with himself? . . . But God 
evidently willed that such a pope should be what he is on his own 
merits and not appear to become something through a mighty 
structure. But that does not alter the fact that you have not done 
what you ought, and that is called stealing.” He closes his letter, 
in which the denunciation of his victim’s irreligiousness, an ac¬ 
cusation of theft, and hypocritical grief over genius led astray are 
skilfully mingled, with the words: “ I hope that I have now proved 
to you that if you are divino (di vino), I at least am not dell’ 
aequo.!’ And this letter, which Aretino naturally managed to have 
freely circulated, did in fact injure Michelangelo incalculably. It 
is in keeping with the paradoxicalness of the Renaissance char¬ 
acter that Aretino, apart from the infamies which were, so to 
speak, imposed on him by his profession, was the kindest, most 
helpful and generous of men, with a touching fondness for chil¬ 
dren and animals, a tireless benefactor and host, whose house 
stood open to all, a man who befriended the rich and obtained re¬ 
lease for prisoners, gave to every beggar, distributed with a liberal 
hand all the money squeezed from others, and was free with advice 
and influence to everyone in distress. A “ secretary of humanity,” 
he once called himself; “ il banchiere della misericordia ” was the 
name given by a friend. Even in his rascalities, too, there was a 

165 



certain breadth and dignity. We need only look at the portrait 
painted by his friend Titian — something both imperious and in¬ 
dicative of genuine intellectual force looks out of it. 

La grande Some thin g of this sense of personal power runs through all 
futana ^ men ^at t j me> The WO rds of Francesco Sforza, when the 

Milanese erected a triumphal arch in his honour, may stand as 
a motto for the Renaissance: “ These are the superstitious trap¬ 
pings of kings; but I am the Sforza.” But woman also awoke to 
an individual life. She was placed on an absolute equality with 
man, not only socially, but in point of education. And, as it usu¬ 
ally happens in times of emancipation, the most emancipated of 
all, the grand cocotte, la grande putana, rose to a supreme position. 
One of these, characteristically named Imperia, kept house on a 
royal scale, read Latin and Greek, was painted by Raphael as 
Sappho, and became after her death an almost legendary figure. 
A poet sang of her: “Two gods have given great gifts to Rome: 
Mars the Imperium, Venus the Imperia.” 

L’Uomo The universities naturally benefited by the general uplift of 
universale intellectual interest. Everyone now flocked to them. The jurists 
of Bologna and Padua and the doctors of Salerno in particular 
were famous all over Europe, and it became the fashion to study 
in Italy as it had formerly been the fashion to do in France — 
Germany’s turn was not yet, for her young academies were then 
still in a very backward condition. But it was not upon this that 
Italy’s fame principally rested. It was precisely the absence of 
any specializing tendencies, the fact that every leading man em¬ 
bodied a whole university and much more besides, that made her 
peculiar richness and splendour of intellectual atmosphere. For 
humanity was then sufficiently ripe to achieve the mastery in all 
things, and yet not old enough to have reached the sobering and 
paralysing belief that life is only long enough to achieve mastery 
in one thing. Far from this, the Renaissance ideal was the uomo 
universale. A prominent Humanist would be philologist and his¬ 
torian, theologian and jurist, astronomer and doctor all in one. 
And not only all the great artists, but many small artists as well, 
were at once painters, sculptors, and architects, and often highly 
gifted poets and musicians, acute scholars, and diplomats into 
the bargain. Human talent was not yet forced into special chan¬ 
nels, but flowed beneficently as one free stream over all fields. We, 

166 



on the contrary, came into the world with brains ready pigeon¬ 
holed, as it were. We cannot imagine how a man can know or do 
more than one thing. We paste a particular label on everyone and 
are surprised, suspicious, and offended if he does not act up to 
his label. This comes from our culture being so completely domi¬ 
nated by the savant (and the mass-produced savant at that) who 
confines himself to a single subject and displays in all other 
spheres the helplessness and artlessness of a child or an illiterate. 
But it is in the very nature of the true artist to know everything, 
be open to all impressions, have access to all forms of existence, 
possess in fact an encyclopedic soul. In any period of artistic cul¬ 
ture we find, therefore, that its gifted men are all distinguished by 
high versatility. They engage in everything and can do every¬ 
thing. In Greece a man who wished to be considered prominent 
was obliged to stand out in practically every department: as a 
musician or an orator, and equally as a general and a boxer. And 
the specialist was positively despised as a common fellow ( ba - 
nausos); and in the Renaissance, talent, virtu, was in the fullest 
degree identical with many-sidedness. It is only in degenerate 
cultures that the specialist appears. 

Another factor was that these artists had an incomparable 
audience waiting for them, such as has never been known since 
and only once before — in Athens. There was an indefinable 
aura of giftedness surrounding mankind of those days, a curi¬ 
ously charged, tense atmosphere which must have spurred every 
productive mind to its highest output of force. To us artistic pleas¬ 
ures — theatres, picture palaces, novels, concerts — are a pleas¬ 
ing addition to life, things which refresh and distract and perhaps 
ennoble us, but are in the last resort only costly luxuries and 
superfluities, things contributing to our well-being like cham¬ 
pagne or imports. We could conceive of life without them. But 
in Athens or Florence art was a function in man’s life, as indis¬ 
pensable to his vitality as flying for a bird. The Italian carnival 
processions, games, and feasts were not, as now, a coarse popular 
entertainment or an aperitif for jaded society, but an important, 
vital occasion in everyone’s life, and everyone wished to take an 
active part in them—just as Americans today do in a meeting. 

The story of the artist’s creating solitude, out of himself alone, 
for himself alone, guided solely by his inner genius and unmoved 

167 


J 

Rermssa 

fui 



by outward success and fame, is one of the many current untruths 
that are universally believed for no better reason than that they 
go uncontrad'icted. The artist does not produce out of himself. 
He produces, as we have already said, out of his age: the whole 
web of its customs, opinions, hobbies, truths, and not least its 
errors, are his source of nourishment; he has no other. The artist 
does not produce for himself, but for his age. Its understanding, 
its lively reaction, is his source of power, only through its echo 
can he have the assurance of having spoken. Artists who have 
the misfortune to be born posthumously, as Nietzsche puts it — 
that is, are suited for a higher air or a richer soil — have always 
a suggestion of transplantation, asymmetry, arrested develop¬ 
ment — Nietzsche himself, standing in the midst of his age like 
an exotic luxury-plant, is the best example of this. It may be 
the fault of the soil, which fails to exude sufficient moisture; this 
is the case when the age is too poor, too empty, and too soulless. 
Or there may be insufficiency of sun and ozone, of air and bright¬ 
ness ; this is the case when the age is backward and, so to say, not 
at its best. We may assume that the capacities of the human race 
always maintain a certain steady average; possibly they may on 
the whole be slowly progressing; but it is certain that within the 
limits of this evolution they remain much the same relatively to 
each other. It is not easy to imagine that for centuries together 
geniuses suddenly shot up from the earth and that for genera¬ 
tions afterwards the harvest is utterly poor again. But we can well 
believe that the soil conditions are one time particularly favour¬ 
able and another time wretched; that at one time — unfortu¬ 
nately the majority of times — hundreds of seeds either do not 
sprout or make no proper progress, and that now and then every¬ 
thing which is in any way vital grows to the utmost limit of its 
capacities. A particular plant-embryo will become, in the temper¬ 
ate zone, a straight, healthy, correct plant, no more and no less. If 
it strikes a strip of soil which is either too unwatered or too raw, 
the result will be either an alarmingly dry, ragged, discoloured, 
and bad-tempered growth or an unnaturally aged one, slinking 
about the ground cripple-wise, an asthmatic dwarf-specimen. But 
if the seed is sown in the rank soil and hot, moist air of the tropics, 
it grows into a mysterious structure of forms, colours, and dimen¬ 
sions that no one would have thought it capable of becoming. 

168 



One of the advantages of the Romance over the Germanic 
nations was that their climate was so extraordinarily favourable 
to genius. We might almost go so far as to say they produced 
geniuses even when they had none. With them the great man is 
ever the intensified expression of the whole nation. Goethe said of 
Voltaire that he was France; and it might equally be said of 
Calderon that he was Spain. But in the Germanic countries genius 
has almost always the appearance of an unaccountable exception, 
a living protest, a happy chance; Goethe could not have said of 
himself that he was Germany. Neither will anyone seriously 
maintain that Shakspere is the type of the Englishman, Strind¬ 
berg of the Swede, Ibsen of the Norwegian, Schopenhauer of the 
Prussian, or Wagner of the Saxon. Yet of the numerous outstand¬ 
ing creative men of that Italian Renaissance it can hardly be de¬ 
nied that one and all they were full-blooded Italians who only 
put into luminous form what the multitude inarticulately felt. In 
the comparatively small centres there was a jostling, an intimacy 
and spiritual nearness, which must have been of the utmost value 
to the creative worker. Each of the city republics was a world unto 
itself, or a microcosm living in perpetual fluctuation, excitation, 
and tension. As in a beehive a high temperature and an animating 
self-heat is engendered by the closely packed, vibrating individual 
bees, so in these communities there was a distinctive temperature 
(Tame, and even the vileness and passion that was discharged 
were stimulants that increased the energy of life and promoted 
the arts. 

This brings us to the common lament over the “ political dis¬ 
unity ” of Renaissance Italy; and indeed, as seen from the stand¬ 
point of the national politician, it is a sorry sight. In Milan 'the 
Sforza family were in power, in Florence the Medici, in Mantua 
the Gonzaga, in Ferrara the Este; in the States of the Church the 
pope, in Naples the Aragonese; and besides these there were the 
two sea-republics Venice and Genoa and the numerous smaller 
sovereignties. All these states not merely fought among them¬ 
selves in open warfare or hidden political intrigue, but were also 
split within themselves by social and political parties. But it is 
comparatively rare to find in history that intensified national 
spirit and enhanced political power go hand in hand with a mount¬ 
ing cultural development. Neither the Greeks of the time of 

169 



Pericles nor the Germans of the dying eighteenth century were the 
fortunate inhabitants of a united national state. Their political 
conditions were desolating. And nevertheless each people in its 
day was the strongest spiritual power-source on our planet. The 
Romans, on the other hand, at the time when they ruled the 
world, produced only meagrely gifted inheritors in art and science. 
The Latin Renaissance, which Charlemagne at the height of his 
power strove to bring about, was a miserable failure. As for 
France, a threadbare puffed-out gold-brocade civilization was all 
she produced under Louis XIV, and the empty lacquered Empire 
style under Napoleon. Germany displayed no important cultural 
development either after 1813 or after 1870, and the decade fol¬ 
lowing the act of union was her most banausic and uninspired 
cultural period, while defeated France entered upon a time of new 
and overwhelming development in the domains of painting and 
the novel. 

Intimacy, the true human intercourse, is only possible among 
a small number of individuals. Just as teaching, to be really effec¬ 
tive and inspiring, must be organized on the basis of compara¬ 
tively small classes, so must a state be not disproportionately 
large if a personal relationship between the leaders and the na¬ 
tion, and between the individual elements of the nation, is to be 
realized. Life in the Italian Renaissance retained its human char¬ 
acter even in its greatest errors, whereas the life of today is un¬ 
human; that is, incapable of being surveyed as a whole, and 
mechanized and soulless to boot. The same applies to the Middle 
Ages, whose inwardness and profound realism prevented the 
building up of any great state-formation. A castle, an autonomous 
townlet, a hamlet — these are realities; but a world-empire is a 
lifeless, empty concept. The Romans achieved imperialism; the 
Greeks did not, because they were more talented. And for the 
same reason that an Ibsen drama or a Mozart opera is unthink¬ 
able in an open-air theatre, true spiritual culture will only take 
root in relatively small state-entities. The richest spiritual de¬ 
velopments have always originated from dwarf states: from 
Athens, Florence, Weimar. And Italy, now no longer “ cut up,” 
has in her two generations of unity achieved nothing, in any 
sphere, that is not a pale and meaningless copy of French 
civilization. 


170 



An intensified spiritual culture can go hand in hand with 
political “ elevation,” military “ expansion,” and national “ up¬ 
rising,” but this is anything but the rule. The true cause of every 
higher development, in any case, is some great idea, which takes 
so powerful a hold on the masses that it renders them creative — 
that is, spurs them to concerted action on a large scale — for 
there is no other way in which the masses may be creative. This 
idea may express itself in the form of politics; it may also simply 
take the form of an exceptionally artistic atmosphere created by 
the collective mind. We trace the flower of Greek culture back 
to the Persian wars. But what were the Persian wars? An idea! 

The idea that Hellas, this tiny peninsula of a peninsula, must not 
be simply eaten up and digested, comfortably assimilated, by that 
colossus of nearer Asia, which was big and nothing else; that the 
spiritus must necessarily be stronger than the moles, quality more 
deserving and more capable of life than quantity. The Greek 
citizen who fought and won on that occasion had thought more, 
felt more, observed more, and in general lived more inwardly and 
intensively than the Persian with his wagon-laagers, monster 
fleets, gorgeous tents and harems. At bottom, it was Homer and 
Heraclitus who won the victory. But the fact of their ■winning was 
only secondary to and consequent upon the far more important 
fact of their being there at all. And then, three centuries later, 

Greece was conquered , but this again proved to be a secondary 
matter: the Romans became intellectually dependent on the 
Greeks, because Homer and Heracles were still there. 

In what, then, did the “ idea ” of the Renaissance consist? We ta 
have already hinted at it. Man realized — or rather thought that 
he realized — that a godlike creative nature, that he himself in¬ 
deed, was a sort of God. It was the age-old Prometheus idea 
breaking out afresh with new vigour. And the formula by which 
it expressed itself was: Back to the Classical! Here, now, lies a 
problem. Inevitably we wonder how it was possible that a nation, 
at j ust the moment when a new vital current was running through 
its culture, arrived at the notion of imitating another, and a long- 
buried, culture. 

First of all we should remember that such “ rebirths ” — the 
re-connexions with the Classical, “ receptions ” of Classical cul¬ 
tural material into the course of European history — are quite 

171 



common and almost a manifestation of a biological law, since 
they recur with serial regularity in the course of the centuries. 
Alexandrinism itself, already, was fundamentally a renaissance, 
a conscious and deliberate return to the literary traditions of the 
Classical Age. And it is common knowledge that the whole of 
Roman literature was no more than a repetition of Greek forms 
— strictly speaking, therefore, a mere literature of translation. 
The Middle Ages also had had two renaissance periods, the 
Carolingian and the Ottonian. Neither was the Italian Renais¬ 
sance the last. We shall meet with many similar movements as 
this book progresses. 

It has been suggested further that the Italian Renaissance was 
nothing but a continuation of the country’s history; that the 
spiritual connexions with antiquity had never been severed, that 
the remains of Roman architecture and sculpture had at no time 
totally disappeared from the city-picture and the landscape, and 
that the national character, though considerably modified by 
infusions of other blood and new cultural influences, had in all 
essentials developed along a line of prolongation which had its 
origin in ancient Rome. 

But there is a much simpler solution. The Italian Renaissance 
was actually no rebirth at all, but simply something new. It owed 
very little to the Classical, and that little was quite external and 
of no decisive significance. “ Back to the Classical ” was nothing 
but a convenient, decorative, and universally comprehensible 
catchword, similar to the “Back to Nature” preached by the 
eighteenth century; and Petrarch’s contemporaries no more went 
back to the Classical than did Rousseau’s to Nature. 

Petrarch Petrarch was the first great propagandist for the Classical 
Age. He was tireless in digging up, collecting, copying, and collat¬ 
ing old manuscripts, and it is to him we owe, among other things, 
the discovery of a great number of Cicero’s letters and orations. 
But in the whole of Classical literature he really cared only for 
Cicero, whom he regarded as the vessel of all wisdom and ora¬ 
torical art. He had indeed a Greek copy of Homer also, but he 
could not read a word of it. For the rest, he was anything but 
Classical in spirit, and what gives him his epoch-making charac¬ 
ter is something very different from his reawakening of Cicero. 
He wrote the first great love-poems in the Italian language; he 

172 



created the sonnet-form, which has ever since remained the fa¬ 
vourite of Italian authors and readers; and above all he was the 
first man whose reactions were specifically modern: the poet of 
Weltschmerz (a heterogeneous emotion utterly unknown to 
Classical man), the creator of the half-sentimental, half-piquant 
life-confessions in the Rousseau manner, and the discoverer of 
the charms of wild romantic scenery (the first to attempt moun¬ 
tain-climbing, a thing abhorrent to the ancients). His attitude 
towards the Classical is also entirely Christian. “ O kind, salva¬ 
tion-bringing Jesus,” he cries, “ true God of all science and all 
mind, I am born for Thee, not for Science. How much more god¬ 
like is one of these little ones who believe in Thee than Plato, 
Aristotle, Varro, Cicero, who, for all their knowledge, do not 
know Thee.” And of the Scriptures he writes that although fewer 
flowers may be culled from them, more fruits are to be found 
there than in worldly writings. Taking all in all, his enthusiastic 
Ciceronianism would seem merely to have helped him to acquire 
a smooth, pleasing, accessible form which can make it appear 
that much had been said, whereas in truth only much had been 
said: on this basis he developed the type of the didactic epistle, 
which corresponds roughly to our modern feuilleton. More than 
one of his own contemporaries on that account chose to regard 
his method of exposition as having a play-actor element in it, and 
the same reproach has often been made in later times. And it is 
true that all his work, even his famous erotic poetry, has a touch 
of pose and deliberate staging for effect. It strikes us as not be¬ 
ing quite genuine, and neither was it. For his way of life and his 
poetry by no means coincided. He wrote glowing verses to his 
one and only Laura, but at the same time he carried on a suc¬ 
cession of other loves. He sentimentalized about simplicity, flee¬ 
ing from the world and the bucolic, but was perpetually occupied 
in trying to gather benefices. He gave out that he despised fame, 
but at the same time busied himself exceedingly to secure his in¬ 
vestiture with the laurel crown. Nevertheless, across all this there 
cuts a passionate honesty and heroic effort towards self-cognition. 
In fact, he was a perfectly modern character. 

A purely external thing was the study of the Classic as prac¬ 
tised by Boccaccio, who has been named the second reviver of the 
Classical. He took over this “ line ” from his ancestor Petrarch 


173 



quite mechanically, and probably only because it had become 
highly fashionable. His attempt to learn Greek was not very 
successful, the only result being a very poor translation of Homer 
into Latin. Posterity, therefore, has judged him quite correctly in 
remembering him only as the author of the graceful indecencies of 
the Decameron. The two most important Humanists of the fif¬ 
teenth century, J£neas Silvius (later Pius II) and Poggio, were 
inwardly antagonistic to the Classical world-outlook. The latter 
calls Alexander the Great an infamous brigand, the Romans the 
scourge of the globe, and says that loyalty, piety, and humanity 
were nowhere to be found in the ancient world. The only place 
where Greek was studied was at the Platonic academy in Florence, 
founded by Cosimo de’ Medici. Most prominent of the academi¬ 
cians was Marsilio Ficino, the admirable translator of Plato — 
but also of Plotinus, whom he placed at least as high and took 
as the model for his own philosophy. Here, too, then, the tendency 
was un-Classical, for neo-Platonism was notoriously synonymous 
with the dissolution of autochthonous Greek thought and its de¬ 
flection into mystical speculations that were related to Christian¬ 
ity. The practice of exact philology is nowhere to be found among 
the Humanists. Texts were calmly worked over, corrected, and 
supplemented; and contemporary writings were produced as 
classics with a barefaced assurance. In most cases the pseudo- 
Classical Renaissance authors were less concerned to assimilate 
the ancient writers inwardly than to plagiarize a stereotyped stock 
of phrases in a rough schoolboy-like manner. Laurentius Valla was 
the first to attempt to bring out a scientific philosophy and gram¬ 
mar ; he fought against the idolization of Cicero (whom he ranked 
below Quintilian) and in his sensational pamphlet De elegantiis 
brought proofs to show that not one of his contemporaries could 
write Latin properly. More, he declared the endeavour to trans¬ 
plant Classical forms of life into the present to be absurd. Poli- 
tian also was an opponent of the one-sided Ciceronians. The face 
of a bull, or a lion, he wrote, seemed to him far more beautiful 
than that of a monkey, yet the monkey bore much more resem¬ 
blance to man. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, too, one of the 
greatest minds of the Renaissance, issued a war ning against the 
partisan glorification of Classical antiquity; on one occasion 
he makes the mediaeval Schoolmen say: “ We shall live for ever, 


174 



not in the schools of the syllable-coiners, where they argue over 
the mother of Andromeda and the sons of Niobe, but in the 
circles of the wise, where men seek out the deeper foundations of 
things divine and human. Approach man, and you will see that 
even the barbarians wore their mind, not on their tongues, but in 
their bosoms.” And his nephew, Francesco Pico, writes: “Who 
will be afraid to confront Plato with Augustine, or Aristotle with 
Thomas, Albert, and Scotus? Who is prepared to give Es chines 
and Demosthenes priority over Isaiah? ” Finally, towards the 
end of the fifteenth century, there came the powerful reaction 
under Savonarola, the last heroic attempt to stifle the new spirit 
and get back to Gothic: into the fires lighted by the great preacher 
of repentance went, among other earthly follies, the works of the 
Classics and the Humanists. This whole movement was, it is true, 
only an interlude, but for a time it influenced the widest circles, 
and it left its mark indelibly on painting, poetry, and philosophy 
and forced a whole series of the most outstanding artists completely 
to reverse their world-picture and their modes of interpreting it. 
The mundane masters of pleasant drawing-room art, the hymn- 
ers of life’s delirious satisfactions, were transformed into melan¬ 
choly brooders and world-scorning ascetics. Writers of tender 
lyrics became hieratic emotionalists. Some artists never touched 
a brush after hearing the thunder of Savonarola’s preach¬ 
ing. Then, with the opening of the sixteenth century, came 
the “fall of the Humanists.” The whole world turned against 
them, no one could any longer put up with their pedantry 
and quibbling, their vanity and love of advertisement, their 
frivolity and corruption, their superficiality and spiritual 
barrenness. 

From all this it would seem, first, that the Italian Renaissance 
was almost a purely Latin one; secondly, that for most of the 
tim e it concentrated on literature; thirdly, that even this literary 
reception was predominantly theoretical, academic; and, fourthly, 
that the elements taken over from antiquity were not the typically 
Classical, but mainly those which paved the way for Christianity. 
The Renaissance was “ pagan ” only in certain of its representa¬ 
tives and even then only in the negative sense that they adopted 
a sceptical (in some cases even atheistic) attitude towards Chris¬ 
tian beliefs. The positive features of the religion and world- 

175 



outlook of ancient Roman paganism were only manifested in 
some few childish externals. 

The It was only in the early decades of the Cinquecento — as a 
Cinquecento s | lort i nte rmezzo, that is, between Gothic and Baroque — that 

Classicism was a comprehensive, vitalizing, and dominating force. 
In architecture and in the work of certain painters such as Man¬ 
tegna or Signorelli it began earlier, but in the new century it be¬ 
came a universal passion and almost an idee fixe. The great word 
of release was — contour. Plastic took command of painting. At 
the same time, as the sequel to the discovery of certain Classical 
sculptures, there set in the reign of a sober, yet proud, will-to-' 
simplification. These miserable decadence-products of a cold, 
empty, prosaic, and unoriginal art became (though they were not 
even understood) accepted models, and under their despotic pres¬ 
sure all artistic production was sterilized, smoothed, dried up, 
and desouled. The proud unadorned simplicity which had tri¬ 
umphed in the incomparable buildings of the Quattrocento was 
now applied to all the manifestations of life (though by its very 
nature it could not continue save as the privilege of a highly gifted 
few) and under the hands of smaller men became deformed into 
mere arrogance, complacency, and tiresomeness. Plainness turned 
into meanness, clarity into shallowness, purity into anaemia. The 
Roman Imperial style, an art which had been set to the require¬ 
ments of the hard and meagre spirituality of the Roman profiteer, 
was now suddenly to be the exclusive norm, the highest ideal. In 
the sixteenth century, too, began the all-powerful and oppressive 
influence of Vitruvius, whose text-book became an absolute canon 
for architects. Alberti went one better. In his Trattato della -pit- 
tura he writes: “ It was easier for Classical artists to become 
great, for their school tradition trained them for these highest 
arts, which cost us so much effort; but all the greater will be our 
renown because without masters, without models, we have dis¬ 
covered arts and sciences of which formerly nothing was heard or 
seen.” With the Cinquecento all the marvel and mystery, chaos, 
unfathomableness, and contradictoriness of life faded out of art. 

Now, ruins and torsos could only exercise a very limited in¬ 
fluence even in those days, and Classical painting could have none 
at all. Whatever it amounted to, then, was due to the poets, rheto¬ 
ricians, and theorists. And when we examine the whole thing 

176 



by daylight, what exactly had been incorporated ? A few column 
forms and roof profiles; round arches and cassetted ceilings; 
medallions and garlands; some tricks of speech and metaphors; 
Latin names and heathen allegories — things of the periphery, 
one and all. But when it comes to calling the pope pontifex 
maximus, the cardinals senators, the city dignitaries consuls and 
praetorians, the nuns vestal virgins; when Giovanni becomes 
latinized as Janus, Pietro as Petreius, and Antonio as Aonius; 
and when a poet is fatuous enough to sing: “ 0 sommo Giove per 
noi crocifisso (O highest Jove, crucified for us) ” and another to 
place the ever-burning lamp of the Madonna-picture under the 
bust of Plato: we can only regard it all as a mere fashionable 
craze or a bizarre masquerade. The whole point is that these men 
were not creating a new art, language, and world-attitude under 
the sudden overwhelming influence of Classical models. This new 
way of looking at things was already latent in them, and they only 
fastened on those models because they saw, or thought they saw, a 
similar world-feeling embodied therein. The Roman ruins had 
always been available and formerly in even greater profusion; 
Vitruvius had long been known; but it was only now that it 
occurred to the Italians to orient themselves on these patterns. 
It was because they themselves were rational, definite, terrene, 
and sceptical that they could turn themselves into Classical Ro¬ 
mans. And, as regards literature, how significant it is that out of 
the wealth of preserved material it was precisely Cicero who was 
elevated to the sole supremacy! His watery but impetuous deco¬ 
rative art, the convenient stucco brilliance of his eloquence, which 
could be readily adapted to any mental structure, his externally 
imposing popular-encyclopaedia equipment, which cunningly con¬ 
cealed his inner poverty — all this corresponded so well to the 
crying need of the time that, for instance, there were individual 
Humanists who refused to read anything whatever except Cicero 
or to use a word which did not occur in his works. 

Yet the period called the High Renaissance—which was 
really a low point of the Renaissance movement—was not with¬ 
out a certain bigness, dueto its grandiose will-to-stylization, which 
penetrated all its vital manifestations and endowed its exist¬ 
ence with a peculiar outstandingness and majesty. Everything had 
the character of a joyous “representation,” deliberately opposed 

177 



to nature because it was intended to differ from it: to be less 
natural, less vulgar, less matter-of-fact and styleless, and more 
worthy and formally perfect, more decorative and tasteful, well 
tempered and laid in careful folds. In considering conditions 
in the North we recognized costume as being one of the most 
characteristic marks of the spirit of the age. We find this also in 
the South, but with the tendency reversed. Here costume aims 
at an effect of royalty, solemnity, passionate aloofness. Glaring 
colours and bizarre forms are avoided. The fundamental tone is 
given by the broad, flowing line, by drooping folds and undula¬ 
tions. It was expected of a woman that she should have a vast 
bosom, big hips, and well-developed limbs — have them or pre¬ 
tend to have them — so that her outward appearance had nothing 
small, domestic, or dainty about it. Heavy, solemn stuffs like 
velvet, silk, or brocade were favoured; also long trains and wide 
puffed sleeves, wide cloaks, and high coiffures built up not only 
of artificial hair, but in part of white or golden silk, the fashion¬ 
able colour being a queenly golden blond, which women tried to 
achieve by using every description of secret lotions and dyes and 
by lying for days in the sun. Every woman tried to have the air of 
a Juno, every man the dignity of a Jupiter — hence the majestic 
long beard. The youthful and the girlish styles were equally de¬ 
spised. A man in his prime and a woman in full bloom, with a 
touch of the virile, were the only types appreciated. For men’s 
dress serious, dark unobtrusive colours were the rule; women 
wore padded skirts which, weighing often several pounds, helped 
to enlarge the hips, bodices which forced the breasts upward, 
and exaggerated soles and heels. In walking, standing, sitting, and 
general behaviour nonchalant superiority and controlled repose 
(gravita rip os at a) were the ideals at which they aimed. There 
was no more walking, only moving. Life was to be a perpetual 
and showy reception, a great society scene in which carefully 
schooled men and women, self-possessed to their fin ger-tips, could 
display their imposing art of perfect behaviour. 

The basis of the Italian Renaissance at its height was extreme 
rationalism, but this very soon emigrated to France, and there 
settled permanently. Michelet says: L’art et la raison reconciles, 
voila la renaissance; and this formula says everything. The Ren¬ 
aissance willed to take the world and class it, dispose it, articu- 

178 



late it, make it clear and comprehensible. From this one motive 
came all its creating and destroying, its affirming and denying, 
its discovery and overlooking, recognizing and failing to recog¬ 
nize. It tried to obtain a hold on existence, to organize it, bring 
it into line with view-points from which orientation would be 
easy and certain. Its ideal in every domain was proportion, 
measure. The highest of its achievements under the influence 
of this tendency was the rhythmic structure and linear harmony 
in its buildings, and the means to that end were as brilliantly 
conceived as they were simple. But in every other department 
also there was the same mathematical-musical principle: in the 
lay-out of gardens, in furniture and ornaments, in the uniform 
and transparent arrangement of paintings and reliefs, and in the 
symmetrical conception of the human body and the landscape of 
its environment. All the artists of that age were unsurpassed 
masters of composition. But beyond that point their advance was 
astonishingly small. 

The Italian Renaissance possesses a great similarity to the 
age of Pericles, which should really be called the age of the 
Sophists. For the Peloponnesian War, atheistic democracy, and 
Attic comedy were all Sophist phenomena. (We are not, of course, 
thinking of sophistry in the current sense, for that is not a char¬ 
acteristic of the philosophical school, but merely an insulting 
term invented by Plato.) Fundamentally all the Classicist or 
Golden ages have a streak of the Sophist. Even the Augustan and 
Napoleonic eras present inward coincidences with the Periclean: 
the triumph of purifying logic in art, world-outlook, and constitu¬ 
tion. In the Renaissance the similarities cover, first of all, political 
institutions: in both cases we have city republics with a more or 
less definite tyrunnis on a democratic or pseudo-democratic basis. 
It was quite in the manner of the Medici that Pericles exercised 
his authority as mere “ First Citizen,” basing his power not on 
heredity or divine right, but on political acuteness, engaging and 
energizing personality, and the glamour of the arts of which he 
was the patron. Figures like Themistocles or Alcibiades, again, 
with their combination of talent and characterlessness, political 
activity and lack of patriotism, challenge comparison with the 
great condottieri. Then, too, the great Italian civic communities 
exercised a hegemony over a number of smaller or weaker towns 

179 



The 

Humanists 


which was as ruthless and selfish, as detested and capricious, as 
that of the major Hellenic cities over their “ allies.” They fought 
among themselves too with just as undiscriminating a cruelty and 
perfidiousness, with an equal absence of the idea of national 
unity; and yet at the same time the consciousness of their com¬ 
mon culture and its superiority over that of all other nations 
gave them a strong feeling of cohesion. So that, in sum, there was 
as much solidarity in the treatment of artistic and spiritual prob¬ 
lems as there was incurable particularism in their political rela¬ 
tions. The analogy extends with equal force to internal politics: 
in Renaissance Italy as in Athens the bourgeois was at the mercy 
of a megalomaniac Polis that claimed omnipotence and mani¬ 
fested the extremes of arbitrariness, vulgar jealousy, delation, 
greed, corruption, extortion — envying, persecuting, and not sel¬ 
dom exiling or killing its best citizens. The fate of Dante and 
Savonarola, again, is an eloquent counterpart to the treatment 
of a Phidias and a Socrates. Another feature is the striking and 
unprecedented role played by the hetsera in the Renaissance as in 
the earlier age; yet another is the artistic and social importance 
of homosexuality; and finally there is an analogy between the 
brief, intensive flowering of the two cultural periods and the 
suicide, as it were, of both at the height of their splendour. Plu¬ 
tarch said of the Athenians of the fifth century that they were 
abnormally great in good as in evil, just as the Attic soil brought 
forth the sweetest honey and the most poisonous hemlock. And 
the same may be said of the Italian Renaissance. 

To the Sophists, of course, correspond the Humanists. Pic¬ 
ture their boundless self-intoxication, their keen dialectic, their 
passion for detractation and embittered rivalries among them¬ 
selves — rivalries that frequently meant brawling and even mur¬ 
derous attacks — their rational and critical habit: their moral 
subjectiveness, which made man the ct measure of things ”; and 
their religious scepticism, which verged on atheism, though with¬ 
out. attacking the external forms of the reigning faith. Wan¬ 
dering from place to place as virtuosi, they, in contrast to their 
predecessors, exploited their stock of knowledge and accomplish¬ 
ments in as many markets as possible. Of eloquence they made 
an extreme cult (even so fine a mind as /Eneas Silvius asserted 
that nothing else governed the globe in the same degree), and if, 

180 



in spite of their weaknesses and defects, they were immensely 
run after, lauded and feted with an enthusiasm that seems to us 
almost pathological, the cause is just the same as in that other 
era: they spoke from the heart of the age, whose profoundest de¬ 
sires and needs they divined with marvellous sagacity. In their 
nimbleness, too, their restlessness and adaptability, their noble 
curiosity and thirst for knowledge, and their perpetual recep¬ 
tivity for all things relating to the mind and human advancement, 
they were the legitimate representatives of their generation. 

The Humanists were indeed the most respected men of their 
time. Everyone competed for their services and their company. 
Socially they were placed far higher than the artists of form, 
which is curious, seeing that it was in the latter that all the crea¬ 
tive force of the Renaissance was exclusively concentrated. Even 
the court jesters often took a higher social rank than painters and 
architects. Their talents were made use of, and they themselves 
were admired, no doubt, but they were regarded nevertheless as 
superior lackeys. Only Raphael formed an exception, on account 
of his striking social gifts, his personal amiability, and his eminent 
presentableness. When Vasari in his “Lives” described himself 
expressly as a painter, he was consciously performing a gesture of 
exquisite courtesy towards his colleagues, whose attention he 
thereby drew to the flattering circumstance of an author’s hav¬ 
ing risen from their ranks. And Alberti advised artists to form 
friendships with poets and rhetoricians, because these would pro¬ 
vide them with material. 

This brings us to a notable point upon which we have only 
briefly touched, the “ literary ” side of the Renaissance. The 
Humanists provided the artists not only with “ material,” but 
with the whole intellectual material, the foundation and subsoil: 
the world-picture and association-material, the canvas, and the 
program. 

We said in the previous chapter that plastic art — and in par¬ 
ticular painting — is the form of expression in which every new 
way of understanding the world finds its earliest outlet. It is quite 
evident why this should be so. If we watch the development proc¬ 
ess of the individual, we see that, with a child, the first impres¬ 
sions which it receives and works out for itself come through the 
eye. It can see properly much sooner than it can hear or — still 

181 


“liter, 

char 

o 

Renats 



more — think. And the chronological succession in the growth- 
process of the collective soul corresponds to that of the child. The 
new content which fills the life of the individual culture-periods 
is first grouped through the visual arts: painting, sculpture, archi¬ 
tecture; then through the arts of thought and interpretation: 
science, philosophy, and “ literature.” First the new senses come; 
and it is at a much later stage that we ask after the sense of them. 

But the Italian Renaissance forms an exception to this rule. 
There literature came before the arts of form. The arts of word 
were being classicized and revived while the plastic arts were 
still medisevally in bondage or purely naturalistic — whence this 
contradictory anomaly ? Here, again, the enigma is readily solved, 
for the whole thing turns out to be an optical illusion when we 
come to look a little closer at this precocious literature which 
outran the plastic arts. It is on quite a different plane from the 
other arts, in that it is no art at all, but an entirely non-productive, 
sterile, academic program-work and style-juggling. It was not un¬ 
til the sixteenth century, when the plastic arts had long since 
bloomed and faded, that a truly creative literature, a poetry 
worthy the name, made its appearance, and even then it still 
lagged far behind painting in its whole spiritual attitude. The 
epic of Ariosto and Tasso is without aerial perspective, without 
knowledge of anatomy, without the force of supreme individuali¬ 
zation, without true dramatic sense or real portraiture, and in 
composition on the level of the quite primitives: built on strips, 
linear, without depth, ornate, and, above all, destitute of that 
noble simplicity and naturalness which is the glory of the Renais¬ 
sance artist. 

The truth is that in those two centuries there was not first 
word-art, then form-art, but only form-art — that is, if by art we 
mean something new, creative, personal, a birth. The statement, 
however, needs modifying to this extent, that undeniably this 
form-art was in part called into being by scientific discussion, re¬ 
search, and reminiscences. This is not usually the case, and the 
fact may be said to have been one of the curses of the Renaissance, 
for it caused the whole movement to appear intellectual, artificial, 
forced, manufactured, and posed; and these characteristics in¬ 
tensified from generation to generation, so that at the height of 
its development (when the fatal program was at last understood 

182 



in its entirety) there set in a soullessness and coldness which of 
necessity choked the seeds that might have progressed to fruition. 

An ugly destructive crack runs through all the higher spheres 
of cultural activity from this point. Art became a matter for 
connoisseurs, wisdom was confined to the learned, and custom- 
ethic to good society. Neither the painter, the sculptor, nor the 
poet now created for all humanity as a seer and herald of great 
sacred and inspiring truths; his efforts were designed for the in¬ 
timate circle possessed of hypotheses, appreciative of fine shades 
and capable of grasping “ implications.” Architects no longer, as 
in the Middle Ages, built their churches and cathedrals with the 
consciousness of being the executants of the universal yearning for 
God, but as the employees of art-loving connoisseur-popes, splen¬ 
dour-loving princes, or fame-loving private patrons. Thinkers 
meditated for a select public of experts; poets polished their verses 
for a privileged class of epicures; artistic handicraft brightened the 
houses of the rich only, music became a lofty science, and war, 
law, politics, and commerce were all specialized and professional¬ 
ized. The falazzi bore the stamp of the new spirit distinctly on 
their faces. They all have a cold, inhospitable, barring expres¬ 
sion. It is difficult to believe that people live in them, that there 
are really houses belonging to the fagades, for they look like noth¬ 
ing but stern, haughtily repellent ornamental screens and scene¬ 
painting. The portraits show us lordly men and great ladies. The 
Mother of God is no more a humble maiden (donna umile ), but 
the proud Madonna , sovereignly receiving the three kings. Christ 
becomes the unapproachable Lord of hosts, the infant Jesus a 
stiff, well-behaved crown prince, conscious of his future rank; 
the Apostles are cool, self-conscious cavaliers. It was a world of 
upper-class people painted for upper-class people: for people with, 
“ nurseries,” people to whom violent words, hasty movements, 
and unrestful lives are a horror; who have grown up in the atmos¬ 
phere of wealth, comfort and bon ton ; who never let themselves 
go, never become intimate, and know how to control them¬ 
selves even in moments of terror and shock. Only that is painted 
which is in good taste. No emotions — emotions are vulgar, no 
story — stories are for the masses; no detail — detail smacks of 
the market stall; no uncleanliness, ambiguity, or backgrounds — a 
gentleman is never ambiguous; no loud colours and harsh 

183 


The, 
in , 
Culu 



Predomi¬ 
nance of 
form-art 


screaming contrasts — the best people do not scream. To create an 
impression of the utmost repose and refinement in sculpture and 
architecture, the stone was left quite white, and this was believed 
to be a genuinely Roman practice, so little did anyone know of the 
Roman empire’s passion for colour materials — for green, red, 
yellow, spotted, veined, striped, or flamed varieties of stone—or 
how glowingly it painted its fagades, reliefs, and fruit-pieces, and 
how strongly it tinted its triumphal arches, statues, and portrait 
busts. 

It was at that time that the type of narrow-minded, superior, 
conceited expert and scholar was born, who infests European cul¬ 
ture to this day. In the Middle Ages humanity was divided into 
kleros and laos. Now we see a second and much deeper cut be¬ 
ing made; henceforth there were the uneducated, the uninstructed, 
the “ people,” the new laymen: and the scholars, the key-holders 
of all life’s riddles, the academic devotees and initiates. A new 
aristocracy arose, which was far more impatient, inaccessible, 
caste-proud, inhuman, and exclusive than the old. 

Here we reach the limit of the parallels that can be drawn 
with the age of Pericles. In that age there was a whole culture, 
and that in the double sense: first, a culture for all — for anyone 
could understand a Sophocles, a Phidias, a Socrates, and even 
“ scholars ” like Thucydides and Hippocrates — and secondly 
(presumably as a result of the first), a culture which in every 
domain achieved the highest. The Renaissance Italians, on the 
other hand, for all their universalism (which was purely technical 
and external), remained totally unproductive in several impor¬ 
tant branches of culture. Their only original product in the realm 
of music is the caccia, a song form in two-part canon with instru¬ 
mental accompaniment, a form of composition which renders in 
tone-colour all the noises of everyday life, such as raindrops, the 
shrill bargaining of the market-place, street cries, girls’ chatter, 
animals’ voices. They possessed no creative philosopher and only 
after the dying-down of the Renaissance do we meet a musician 
and a thinker of world magnitude — namely, Palestrina and 
Giordano Bruno. Their dramatic record was limited to a few 
witty satirical farces which showed a pretty fancy and sound ob¬ 
servation of life. Even Machiavelli’s Mandragola is only superior 
light reading, and everything in the serious genre is mere display- 

184 



stuff, though of a splendour, imagination, and finish which we 
can hardly visualize nowadays. It is true, they painted, modelled, 
built, and above all lived in so overwhelmingly dramatic a fashion 
that they may well be forgiven their lack of written drama. 

It is in pictures that the history of the Italian Renaissance is 
written. The painters have mirrored with the tenderest under¬ 
standing and utmost force of expression all the windings of the 
strange path which the public spirit of this land followed from 
the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the sixteenth cen¬ 
tury. Nevertheless, it would be rash to pick out any individual as 
the absolute representative of the spirit of the age; though there 
are certain stars of the second and even third magnitude that 
might be considered as nearest to the mark. Pisanello, for in¬ 
stance, found an incomparably rich language for his naive and 
yet appreciative delight in the picturesque detail which charac¬ 
terized the men of the Quattrocento; equally Benozzo Gozzoli 
made rushing symphonies of the inexhaustible, foaming joy of 
life of the new generation, its youthful passion for festivals, pro¬ 
cessions, and buildings, and its general view of existence as an 
unending carnival. The age of Savonarola, on the other hand, 
found an impressive monument in the chill, ascetic, and spirit¬ 
ualized figure of Perugino, who was nevertheless a thoroughly 
amiable and gentle personality. Another exponent was the pain¬ 
ter Giovanantonio Bazzi, known in the history of art by the sig¬ 
nificant name of Sodoma, who gave a vivid picture of the over¬ 
ripe period of the Renaissance, when sensuality became sybaritic 
and then went on to real depravity and perversion. But in speak¬ 
ing of the Renaissance these are never the names which come 
up. So long has it been a convention to leave Michelangelo, Leo¬ 
nardo, and Raphael in undisputed supremacy, as (so to say) The 
Triumvirate. 

And yet Michelangelo stands completely apart. He has been 
acclaimed as the perfecter of Classicism and as the initiator of 
the Baroque, as the last of the Gothics and as the father of Ex¬ 
pressionism. He is all that — and none of it. He belonged to those 
extremely rare minds that are equally one-sided and all-sided, 
who constitute an entire world of their own and have no pupils 
and no contemporaries. He belonged to the Megatheria of human¬ 
ity, who obey and are subject to different conditions of life from 

185 


Mich, 

angi 



those of our species; to the few monumental statues in the pan¬ 
theon of the human race that have about them something that 
is timeless and placed outside nature. These men might have 
lived at any time whatsoever, or indeed at no time: for we of 
today still cannot believe that they ever existed. There is no “ age 
of Michelangelo.” He towers above his time like a rugged giant 
crag or a colossal inaccessible lighthouse. Neither is there any 
“ school of Michelangelo ”; or at least there should not have 
been one. For the illusory belief that anyone could learn anything 
from him led to the most senseless productions and put art history 
hopelessly off its track. 

Even in outward things he stood in no relation to his age, for 
he was as little suited to his environment as his environment to 
him. Everything about him breathed misanthropy. He was not 
made for society and intercourse. His outward appearance was 
repellently ugly: the expression of his face was “ Malayan he 
was short and unhealthy-looking and always badly dressed; shy, 
suspicious, taciturn, constantly grumbling at himself and others; 
without any relaxations and frugal to the point of shabbiness. 
He lived in one wretched room with a loutish manservant. His 
nourishment was limited to bread and wine, and his recreation to 
a few hours’ sleep in his clothes. He was intolerant, and spiteful 
towards other artists; and his entire self-absorption, though there 
was every reason for it, did not make him more attractive. And 
so we see a life of eighty-nine years without a gleam of happiness 
or friendship and (although he was extremely susceptible and felt 
himself particularly drawn to Vittoria Colonna and Tommaso 
dei Cavalieri) without a single hour of love, being on the con¬ 
trary filled to the brim with despair. “ No mortal sorrow was un¬ 
known to me,” he "wrote of himself; and it is a fact that he 
possessed in the highest degree the “ gift of sucking poison out of 
everything,” as Lichtenberg once put it. No, he was not lovable, 
this Michelangelo—but, then, such abysmally “apart” giants, 
such heroes from a strange glacial world, very seldom are. He 
had a perfectly clear consciousness of his timeless grandeur, of 
his immense distance from others. His attention was once called 
to the fact that his busts of the two Medici were not like the 
originals. “ Who will notice that ten centuries hence ? ” was his 
reply. All other Renaissance work falls into the category of 

186 



miniature compared with his; the others were “ beautiful,” he is 
big; even Leonardo’s soulfulness looks dulcet beside him. 

Coming now to Leonardo, he too cannot really be regarded 
as representative of the Renaissance; for one reason, because we 
know so little about him. There is something like a fine mist about 
his figure. Even Burckhardt, who turns the mysterious pages of the 
Renaissance as if it were an open book, calls him the enigmatical 
master. He is as unfathomable as the famous smile of his Monna 
Lisa. And his other paintings are also sheer puzzle-pictures which 
seem to point behind and beyond themselves. A strange ghostly 
emptiness lies over them: not a hollow emptiness, but the empti¬ 
ness of infinity. In his hands even the landscape becomes dis¬ 
tant, strange, and reticent. And while for almost all other artists 
the deepest essential is to say something, the something in them 
that is passionately seeking an outlet, he retires completely be¬ 
hind his creations. The “ Last Supper ” is perhaps the most objec¬ 
tive piece of work that ever came from a brush. It is symbolic of 
his whole nature that he was the first great master of chiaroscuro, 
of respirazione and sfumato; that he taught that one must paint 
as though the sun were shining through a mist, and insisted that 
bad weather was the best light for faces. For his own personality, 
too, is dipped in a magic chiaroscuro, a floating atmosphere, and 
its outline is hardly discernible through the soft, pale contours 
which shroud it. It is typical also that two such enigmatic figures 
as Lodovico Moro and Caesar Borgia should have been just the 
ones to retain this restless spirit permanently in their service. His 
universatility, which verges on the miraculous and is unique in 
world-history, makes him an unseizable Proteus. He was painter, 
architect, sculptor; philosopher, poet, composer; fencer, leaper, 
athlete; mathematician, engineer, instrument-maker, festival or¬ 
ganizer; he invented sluices and cranes, mill machinery and 
boring-machines, aircraft and submarines; and all these activ¬ 
ities he practised not as a clever amateur, but with as perfect a 
mastery as if each of them had been his lifelong occupation. Then, 
as if fate had wanted to wipe out his features still more thor¬ 
oughly, his masterpieces have been either completely destroyed 
— for instance, the portrait of Francesco Sforza and the “ Battle 
of the Standard ” — or handed down to us only in a very damaged 
condition, as in the case of the “ Last Supper.” The clearest 

187 


Leonar 


I 



Raphael 


Raphael's 
vicissitudes 
of fame 


impression of his impenetrable nature is found in the austere, re¬ 
served, and, as it were, veiled face of the red chalk drawing in 
which he portrayed himself. 

There remains Raphael. And he did really, and in the most 
complete manner, represent his age. He did so — and this is ex¬ 
traordinary— not because of anything projecting, sharply pro¬ 
filed, or towering or self-willed in his personality, but rather just 
because of his lack of personality, which enabled him to be purely 
a receptive medium, purely a mirror, absorbing all the rays which 
struck him and reflecting them. Raphael’s work is the careful, 
clear, complete, and beautiful — too beautiful — record of the 
Cinquecento; and, as the Cinquecento was in a sense the signa¬ 
ture of the Renaissance, its strongest and most concentrated ex¬ 
pression, his work is genuinely the essence of the whole Italian 
Renaissance. This mixture of extraordinary and unmeaning qual¬ 
ities explains the great difference of opinion which has always 
existed with regard to him. His painting is an incomparable cross- 
section and average of his age, and to be this it was quite in¬ 
dispensable that he should be only an average person. But 
as this age was full of greatness, splendour, and wealth, it 
is equally natural that he who had drunk in all this should 
re-radiate its happiness, wealth, and imperishable splendour to 
posterity. 

Michelangelo, even so soon, remarked that Raphael had 
got so far as he did by his diligence and not by his genius. And it 
was that same Michelangelo who opened out a new era, in which 
Raphael was completely neglected: the era of Baroque. Its most 
important achievement was the breaking up of line, and Raphael, 
the master of contour had, therefore, nothing to say to it. Indeed, 
Bernini, the dictator of this period of style, issued a positive warn¬ 
ing against imitating Raphael. Even in Louis XIV’s time, when a 
return to Classicism took place, the court painter Lebrun was 
ranked higher than Raphael. When the Sistine Madonna was 
brought to Dresden, Augustus II had it set up in the throne room, 
saying in reply to the court officials, who were beside themselves 
at the idea that the throne should make way for the picture: 
“Make way for the great Raphael!” Yet the Dresden art au¬ 
thorities of the day insisted that there was something vulgar 
about the Child in the Madonna’s arm and that His expression 

188 



was peevish. Even in the nineteenth century it was maintained 
that the angels in the picture had been painted by pupils. Boucher 
advised one of his pupils, who was leaving for Rome, not to give 
too much time to the study of Raphael, who was, despite his fame, 
un peintre bien triste. That Winckelmann, that founder of Ger¬ 
man plaster-Classicism, should have been greatly impressed by 
Raphael is understandable; yet at the same time he had no 
doubt whatever that his friend Raphael Mengs, one of the dreari¬ 
est allegorists who ever lived, was greater than Raphael Sanzio. 
At the dawn of the nineteenth century it did seem for a time as if 
absolute supremacy in painting was at last to be accorded to him 
— at any rate the “ Nazarenes,” who then more or less set the 
tone, could not praise him enough. But on looking closer we see 
that the Raphael whom these enthusiastic young men praised so 
extravagantly was not the real Raphael. When they spoke of him, 
they meant the Raphael of the pre-Roman period, and the pic¬ 
tures which he painted on arriving at his full maturity seemed to 
them a falling off. It was the Nazarenes and their near relations 
the Romantics who were responsible for that hardy legend of 
Raphael as a noble, guileless youth, passing through life like a 
sleep-walker, producing as the result of effortless supernatural 
inspiration, and the complete naivete of a favoured child, the 
exact opposite of what Michelangelo had said and, indeed, of the 
fact. It was this Raphael who for nearly a century was the joy 
of the German bourgeois of the age of poker-work, transfers, and 
art needlework. But then the Pre-Raphaelites came along. They 
placed the peak of Italian art in the period before Raphael, in 
whom they saw but a cold and soulless virtuoso. Their spokesman 
was Ruskin, who regarded Raphael as the embodiment of hollow 
false elegance. Referring to the cartoon “ The Charge to Peter” in 
Modern Painters, he writes, for instance: “ . . . the moment we 
look at the picture we feel our belief of the whole thing taken away. 
... It is all a mere mythic absurdity, and faded concoction of 
fringes, muscular arms, and curly heads of Greek philosophers.” 
Raphael, he goes on to say, blotted out all that thoughtful persons 
might have fancied for themselves about the life of Christ by his 
vapid fineries and obscured the “ questioning wonder and fire of 
uneducated apostleship ” under an “ antique mask of philosophic 
faces and long robes.” Edmond de Goncourt called him the creator 

189 



The 

<c darling of 
the gods ” 


The basic 
error of 
Classicism 


of the Mother-of-God ideal for Philistines, and Manet declared 
that a Raphael made him literally seasick. So it will be seen that 
there was never any lack of connoisseurs ready to say with Velas¬ 
quez : “ To tell the truth, I don’t like Raphael at all.” 

The year 1517 is known to all as the birth-year of the Refor¬ 
mation, when Luther nailed his ninety-five articles on the door 
at Wittenberg. In that same year Raphael painted his Sistine 
Madonna, of which everyone thinks when his name is mentioned. 
And about the same time Count Balthasar Castiglione finished 
his Courtier, a work which might be called a sort of Renaissance 
Bible. It is the “ Knigge ” 1 of those days, its hero is the Gentleman 
as the time conceived him: adroit, dignified, with a public man¬ 
ner and a tact that is equal to every occasion, the counterpart of 
the modern gentleman, but a gentleman full of elegance, serene 
and unworried. It was this perfect cavalier, radiating charm, be¬ 
loved of princes and women and gods, whom Raphael painted and 
Raphael lived. And so the picture has gone marching on through 
four centuries. 

But Raphael the darling of the gods had, for our ideas of life, 
one great fault. Darlings of the gods are, in fact, insipid. They 
are as tiresome as the “ blue sea of the South,” the “ pure spring 
day,” the “ sweet baby in the cradle,” and all perfectly pure, per¬ 
fectly balanced, perfectly happy things. We desire something dif¬ 
ferent in life and in art. 

Raphael once said: “ To paint a beauty I must have several 
before me, and as I have not enough models, I paint from mem¬ 
ory, from an idea that I have in my head.” What he means is 
that, as there is no female beauty alive in nature that is perfect 
in every part, he resorts to assembling an ideal beauty in his 
imagination from individual reminiscences. This view that it was 
the mission of art to represent perfection was Raphael’s funda¬ 
mental error and the fundamental error of the whole of Classi¬ 
cism. Great artists are always appearing from time to time who 
seem to prove to us for the moment that Classicism (that is, strict 
order, unity, straight lines, harmony, colourless transparency) is 
the flowering of art. But they prove it more or less in usurn 
delphini — that is, for themselves alone. The fact is that there are 

1 Adolf Freiherr von Knigge’s Ober den Umgang mit Menschen (1788), a well- 
known book of manners. Tr. 


IQO 



here and there “ Classical ” creations of so supernatural, un¬ 
real a beauty that our inclination for the time being is to see in 
them the summit of art and to regard everything else as a more or 
less successful groping attempt in the direction of these heights. 
But it is a delusion. These phenomena are not (so to say) in¬ 
carnations of the rule (though one might think so, since they are 
the most regular), but interesting, admirable monstrosities. It is 
irregularity that is the essence of nature, of life, of men; regular¬ 
ity is an artificial distillation or a rare accident. The most regular 
form produced by nature is a crystal; yet every mineralogist 
knows that the perfect crystal does not exist. And even the ap¬ 
proach to regularity makes the crystal appear dead. Occasion¬ 
ally we meet such things as completely circular mountain cones, 
radially symmetrical animals, an absolutely uniform light or cli¬ 
mate; but these are more or less the freaks of nature. We regard 
Classical creations with wonder and admiration, as we do a 
glacier; but we should not like to live in a glacier, and we could 
not if we would. We pitch our settlements in the thicket, among 
the lower mountains, on the undulating plain, or by the ever rest¬ 
less water. We are, incurably, Romantics and not Classics; and 
this is inevitable because nature also can only create romantic 
things. 

Raphael sets no problems: and that is the main grievance 
against him. Hermann Grimm in his beautiful life of Raphael 
says: “ Raphael has no intentions. His works are understood at a 
glance. He creates, like nature, without intention. A rose is a rose, 
no more and no less. Nightingales are nightingales. We do not 
need to probe any deeper. Similarly Raphael’s work is free from 
personal additions. With him the most deeply moving subjects 
present absolutely no personal note; as if the artist’s own experi¬ 
ence had been worked in too thoroughly for his personality ever 
to emerge.” Let us accept this analogy and have the courage to 
confess that rose and nightingale have both something vexing 
about them. They are a little too lovely. And they are nothing but 
lovely. Involuntarily we ask ourselves: “ Lovely! — and is that 
all? ” Raphael affects us just so. A true work of art ought to give 
us something we can deal with. It is not enough for it to unfold 
itself with lazy majesty before our eyes and say: “ I am beauti¬ 
ful.” It must point beyond itself: to castles which it can open up, 

191 



corpses which it can revive, dreams which it can unravel. It must 
be an interpreter of life, a thing to hold to one’s ear and consult 
in any situation. Every work of art has a tendency, and therein 
indeed lies its chief value. It has a tendency, or, in other words, 
it has a person behind it: a person capable of question and an¬ 
swer, thoughts and passions. But there Raphael’s figures stand, 

“ free from personal additions,” nicely painted blue and red like 
sugar-sticks or tin soldiers, and it is impossible to escape the im¬ 
pression that these famous female figures might j ust as well figure 
on a soap-box or be packed in with a scent-bottle. “ Sistine choco¬ 
late ” is not at all inconceivable. The same may be said of his 
composition: would not the “Philosophy” in the Stanza della 
Segnatura make a splendid theatre-curtain? The famous gloss 
which is so special to Raphael’s works often becomes merely 
satiny, and his handwriting too calligraphic. Too often we can 
trace the mark of his patron Leo X, who was all polish and empty 
form, who understood neither Leonardo nor Michelangelo — who, 
indeed, knew very little about art in general, music perhaps ex¬ 
cepted. This purely musical side of his nature he seems to have 
conveyed to Raphael, and with some success, for (as we have 
seen) Raphael was adaptability itself; Benabo too, the Humanist 
cardinal, was able to imbue the artist with his own unmeaning 
rhetoric. 

This is not to say that he was not one of the most perfect 
painters who ever lived. He was. But the point is, we are here con¬ 
cerned with him as a cultural symbol, not as a painter, any more 
than we are concerned with, say, Napoleon as a strategist, or 
Luther as a theologian, when we are dealing with them under 
their symbolic aspects. Moreover, it is precisely Raphael’s per¬ 
fection which makes him so distant, strange, and dumb to us. 
“ The inadequate is productive,” said Goethe in one of his pro- 
foundest moments. Every whole thing, every complete thing, has 
been completed and we have done with it, relegated it to the past. 
A half-thing is still capable of development and progress and is 
looking for its complement. Perfection is sterile. 

To sum up, we might say that there are two species of genius: 
the special, non-recurring, isolated species, the solitary ones 
whose greatness consists in their being a unicum, a monstrosity 
and psychosis; a timeless, more-than-life-size exception. And 

192 



there is the other species, which represents the emotions and 
thoughts of all the world, but so comprehensively, with such art 
and clarity, that an enduring type is the result. Raphael was one 
of these latter, and this is what Hermann Grimm must have meant 
when he said of him: “ There is something delightfully mediocre 
and ordinary about him. He is intimate with all, everyone’s friend 
and brother, no one feels inferior beside him.” His sweet women’s 
faces, his clear figure-grouping, his bright, strong colour harmo¬ 
nies are understood by all. He is Monsieur Toutlemonde’s idea 
of a painter. Raphael speaks to everyone — really, therefore, to 
no one. 

We said just now that the Italian Renaissance produced not 
a single philosopher. But it produced something else of equal 
value—Machiavelli; a practical observer, narrator, and critic 
of extreme clearness, keenness, and range of vision. Machiavelli 
had not merely the most experienced, discerning, orderly, logical 
large-scale mind, was not only the brain of his age, but was posi¬ 
tively a sort of national saint and patron of the Renaissance wbo 
summed up its life-will, its whole spiritual structure, in a few 
bold, illuminating formulas. He was a politician and nothing but 
a politician, and therefore he was naturally an immoralist. All the 
accusations that have been hurled at him these four centuries are 
rooted in the critic’s lack of just that quality which he so com¬ 
pletely embodied, the gift of logical thinking. Those who con¬ 
demn, or even merely attempt to refute, him forget that he did 
not set out to be a systematic philosopher, an ethical reformer, a 
teacher of religion, or anything of this description; the exclusive 
aim and content of his work were the description of men as they 
really were and the deduction of practical results from this reality. 

He regarded the State as a natural phenomenon, a scientific 
object to be described and analysed, investigated closely as to its 
anatomy, physiology, and biology, without any “ point of view,” 
without theological premisses. The zoologist does not sit in judg¬ 
ment on sharks, man-eating tigers, and cobras or think them 
“wickeder” than poodles, hares, or sheep, but seeks solely to 
establish their life-conditions and the most favourable assump¬ 
tions for the flourishing of their species. This is Machiavelli’s 
standpoint towards the “ ruler-phenomenon,” and he carried 
through the task of investigation with such wonderful success that 

193 


Machiavel 


'i 


1 



(C Immoral- 
ism ” 


it has been, said that all modern history is a “ running com¬ 
mentary ” on Machiavelli. 

Machiavelli was as imaginative and passionate — and as cor¬ 
rupt and false — a reviver of the Classical as any of his contempo¬ 
raries. In his mind he always saw the Polis, and in its Latinized 
form to boot. At the head of his theory of politics stands the propo¬ 
sition : “ The State is power.” He wished for a return to the armed 
nation, the Old Roman civic patriotism, the national kingship. 
He forgot that such a reconstruction was impossible in an age that 
had the revolutionary experience of Christianity behind it and 
pan-European and even world-politics imminent on its hori¬ 
zon. His ideal, as everyone knows, was Caesar Borgia, who was 
not only a conscienceless rascal, but—what in a statesman 
was far more compromising — an adventurer without guiding 
principles. 

This brings us to the moral balance-sheet of the Renaissance. 
The mysterious atmosphere of beauty and vice, wit and vio¬ 
lence, charm and rottenness in which the Renaissance is embedded 
has always stirred the imagination of posterity. It has evoked an 
expansive indignation in the bourgeois brain, which has not the 
power to conceive of a world other than its own well-lighted, po¬ 
liced, and paragraphed one; and equally it has fired the enthusi¬ 
asm of every incurable adolescent brain, which all its life never 
gets beyond a certain perverted puberty-imagination. Obviously 
both are wide of the mark. 

We have first to take into account that most of the Renais¬ 
sance crimes were committed by official personages — that is, 
more or less in an official capacity — and that these same people 
were, outside this professional practice of robbery and murder, 
often quite charming and even of a noble disposition. It is even 
said of that most brilliant specimen of a Renaissance horror, Pope 
Alexander Borgia, that in private life he was good and gentle, 
without rancour, a friend and benefactor of the poor. Most people 
who were not concerned with politics led as peaceful and harmless 
an existence as the people of any other period. Among artists par¬ 
ticularly, in whom, if anywhere, the characteristic features of the 
time were represented, there is practically none of the proverbial 
Renaissance immoralism to be found. There was never any lack, 
either, of great opponents of public immorality; the big 

194 


non- 



compromisers, gloomily heroic supermen of moralism — Savo¬ 
narola above all, the “ conscience of Florence,” although in his 
daemonic vigour he embodied but the second half of the Florentine 
ideal of the soave austero. A great prophet, but no Christ in 
Christ’s own sense, for he lacked proportion, humanity, the grand 
forgivingness, and charm. 

Because we fail to understand this peaceful juxtaposition of 
talent and depravity, of superlative taste and refinements of vil¬ 
lainy, this rivalry between the completest trained intellectuality 
and the perfect, we are apt to say: it cannot have been so; in¬ 
wardly these people must have felt guilty and unhappy. What we 
ought to say, on the contrary, is: these people must positively have 
felt guiltless and happy, otherwise they could never have done 
these things. The naivete of the Renaissance is at the root of its 
vices. On reading those descriptions of infamous deeds we are 
forced, in spite of our moral shudderings, to admire the grace and 
thoroughbred ease, the formal perfection, the rhythm, one might 
say, with which these people went about plotting, plundering, and 
murdering each other. Murder was then simply a part of the 
economy of existence, just as lying is now. Our press organization, 
our party organization, our political diplomacy, our business deal¬ 
ings — a ll these are built up on a comprehensive system of mutual 
lying, “ getting away with it,” and corruption. No one takes ex¬ 
ception to this. If a politician, for reasons of State or in the inter¬ 
ests of his party, poured cyanide of potassium into another man’s 
cup of chocolate, the whole civilized world would be horrified; but 
we take it quite as a matter of course when a statesman from simi¬ 
lar motives deceives, forges facts, dissembles, and intrigues. The 
Italians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries still lived in a 
state of mind which could regard an occasional murder as a fer¬ 
ment in the social metabolism — one might almost say, could ac¬ 
cept it as a part of the social code; just as today “ corruption ” is 
considered an indispensable ingredient of public and private inter¬ 
course. It is only a question of grades. 

At the same time it is permissible to speak of a certain kind of 
Renaissance “ guilt.” But it lies much deeper than all this. 

The men of the Renaissance were bent on turning their whole 
life into one great dance festival, and they succeeded — brilliantly. 
The saying of Lorenzo de’ Medici: “ Fucciamo festu tuttavia! 

195 


1 


T» 

“ guilt 
of ti 
Renaissan 


1 

t 

1 



floated above them like a blazing motto, and when Leo X became 
Pope he exclaimed: “ Godiamoci il papato, poiche Dio ce Vha dato 
(Let us have a merry Papacy, since God has given it to us)This 
frivolity was not personal to him; he was only expressing the uni¬ 
versal attitude towards a pope’s rights and duties. A passionate 
greed for pleasure — though a pleasure ennobled by art and intel¬ 
lect— consumed the people of that age; an insatiable hunger for 
beauty, beauty in everything: beautiful sayings and writings, 
beautiful deeds and misdeeds, beautiful entries and exits, beau¬ 
tiful thoughts and passions, beautiful lies and scandals — for 
beauty as the material of life, making not only individual details, 
such as houses, statues, banquets, poems, but all existence a work 
of art. But— any wiser or more inward relation with the secrets 
of creation they neither desired nor attempted. 

In his book Shakespeare und der deutsche Geist, which is 
full of new points of view, Friedrich Gundolf writes: “ Here a 
worldly nobility takes all things, lightly or hardly, according to a 
worldly standard and does not ask: What does God say to it? ” 
Whether this fully applies to Shakspere or not is an open question; 
but it does apply exactly to Renaissance Italians. The question: 
“What does God say to it? ” — the most profound and indeed 
the only problem of the Middle Ages — had never any inter¬ 
est for them. And yet were we really deposited in the world 
merely as clowns and jesters, upholsterers and amus em ent 
caterers ? 

Beauty or We touch here upon a great rift, perhaps the greatest of all rifts 
goodness i n existence of the earth’s inhabitants. It consists in the ter¬ 
rifically solvent question: What is the meaning of life — beauty or 
goodness ? It is in the nature of these two forces that they usually 
find themselves in conflict with each other. Beauty desires itself, 
always and only itself; goodness never desires itself and always 
has its aim in the non-ego. Beauty is form, and only form; good¬ 
ness is content, and only content. Beauty appeals to the senses, 
goodness to the soul. Is it mankind’s most blissful and noble task 
to make the world constantly richer, more desirable and precious, 
to fill it with an ever greater fascination of wit and brilliance? Or 
is it not rather best, most natural and God-pleasing s im ply to be 
a good creature, take others by the hand and serve them and be 
of use to them? What is the aim of this our earthly pilgrimage? 

196 



Is it the unlimited affirmation of this world’s power and beauty? 
But that can only be done at the cost of our purity. Or is it the 
saving of the soul entrusted to us by God, its purification and 
liberation from the earthly? But then we should not perhaps have 
lived life in full. Who, then, is right? Artist or saint? Creator or 
conqueror ? 

This conflict is displayed in the life of Tolstoi, that mighty 
dreamer and creator, who suddenly conceived an ardent hatred 
for art and became a peasant and a hermit. Its dark traces are 
visible in Shakspere’s last works; its anxious voice is heard in 
Ibsen as he grows old, and rings stridently, like the beats of a brass 
gong, through the whole of Strindberg. Bernard Shaw, the strong¬ 
est and warmest brain of our own times, tries to formulate it in 
The Doctor’s Dilemma, one of his finest, richest, and most out¬ 
spoken comedies, and Oscar Wilde puts it before us with over¬ 
whelming plastic effect in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. 
Dorian Gray is a man for whom the dream of eternal beauty is 
fulfilled. No wickedness, no age, no filth can touch his body; but 
the body is only the shadow of the soul, and the soul can only be 
beautiful through purity and goodness, and so Dorian Gray is 
nothing but a deceived deceiver: the world sees him in his incor¬ 
ruptible youth and charm, but the invisible picture in the locked 
attic records none the less, trait by trait, every step which his soul 
has taken towards ugliness. 

The Renaissance was the second and true Fall of man, as the 
Reformation was his second and perhaps definitive exclusion from 
paradise. The Reformation engendered the dogma of the sacred¬ 
ness of work; the Rennaissance produced the man who enjoys, 
and ends by worshipping, himself. And the two together, working 
with a good conscience and a narcissist self-regarding and self- 
glorification, are responsible for the modern boredom under which 
the earth is gradually congealing. And the correlative of this 
boredom is the “ interestingness ” (or otherwise) of objects — 
a conception as unknown to the Classical as to the mediaeval 
age. 

Dante’s divine poem hangs like a blazing danger-signal at the 
entrance to the Renaissance. In describing the fate of those who 
were condemned to live at the greatest distance from God, he was 
describing the future of his own country. Held in the eternal ice, 

197 



Where even tears freeze, the last mercy is denied them: they cannot 
even repent. And as Dante strides through their ranks, he stumbles 
against Alberigo, who suffered the most terrible fate of all. The 
Creator had taken his soul from him. 

The fate of the Renaissance was the fate of Alberigo. It was 
condemned to have no soul. 



CHAPTER V 


REASON TAKES CHARGE 

"Man is therefore nothing but a heap of 
errors , powerless without grace. Nothing 
shows him truth , everything deceives. The 
two chief supports of truth , the reason and 
the senses, each deceive the other . 

Pascal 

We will pause for a moment to cast a brief glance over what 
has been said, to indicate what is to come and elucidate somewhat 
the purpose and content of our method. 

World-history is a dramatic problem: it is nothing but the 
destiny of the collective soul of humanity, pursuing a path that is 
varied and full of confusion and change, but yet runs on in accord 
with definite psychological laws. The individual stages — the 
epochs, as we call them — follow not merely after one another, 
but arise one out of the other, and their passage has a scenic con¬ 
tinuity : each one is definitely marked off from the preceding and 
the following, but yet forms with them an organic continuity, for 
it fulfils the earlier and conditions the latter. The drama of human 
history is dominated by a clear and ineluctable necessity; but, not 
being a lifeless work of the study but a poem conceived by a hand 
of genius, this necessity is not a rigid, barren piece of logic, nor a 
calculated piece of psychological schematism. Only distance 
enables us to get an inkling of it, for its throne is in the background 
and it works only mediately through a luxuriant chaotic jungle of 
life, never actually entering the consciousness of the actors, but 
(only later) laid bare and described in feeble and disillusioned 
words by the historian, whose role is that of the dramatic critic. 

What we are trying in these pages to investigate is the course 
of the development of the European soul during that period which 
we call the “ modern age.” So far we have tried to depict briefly 
the condition of “ traumatic neurosis ” which was the immediate 
consequence of the great trauma of the Black Death; the plague 
itself in its turn being only the external expression of an inner 


199 



The n&w 
look 


disturbance and psychological transformation — namely, the de¬ 
thronement of the mediaeval world-view by Nominalism, the 
definite, though generally unconscious, rejection of all earlier 
dominants of existence. There is a sudden collapse of all the stand¬ 
ards and “ truths ” — religious, ethical, philosophical, econom¬ 
ical, erotic, and artistic — which, till then firmly established and 
believed, had guaranteed, seemingly for ever, the orientation of 
man in past, present, and future. And amidst the ruins everyone, 
according to his peculiar characteristics, sought to carry off among 
his booty some last piece of still doubtful value, or in dull stupe¬ 
faction renounced all the goods of this world, or, tossed between 
passion and pleasure, had eyes only for the enjoyment of the mo¬ 
ment ; but not one was able to find a way out. On the other hand, 
we have seen how in the fifteenth century in Italy there began to 
emerge what we have called the “psychomotor superstruc¬ 
ture”— that is, the regulation, balancing, and organization of 
what had so far been just a neurosis. The labile becomes stable, 
the pathological condition becomes normally physiological, while 
the positive quality of the new spiritual condition gradually 
emerges, and indications of the directions become visible. Thus, 
what had had the appearance of a devastating and even fatal dis¬ 
ease had, after all, been a healthful fever through which the organ¬ 
ism was renewed, a pregnancy in which new germs were maturing 
in preparation for exposure to the light of day. This process of 
consolidation is already reaching its height in the early Cinque- 
cento in Italy, and in the course of the century it affects the whole 
western half of Europe. 

And this new quality, which passed gradually into the Eu¬ 
ropean consciousness, consisted simply in the rise of an extreme, 
exclusive, and all-embracing Rationalism — Sensualism, if the 
term is preferred, for fundamentally both are the same. The sen¬ 
sualist has faith only in what his senses tell him, but the counsel¬ 
lor of 'his faith is his reason. The rationalist builds only by the 
light of his reason, yet it is only sense-impressions which give him 
his basis. Each is a somewhat modified and differently orientated 
expression of the same position, the unconditional reliance of man 
on himself and his auxiliaries in nature. 

This attitude to reality, however self-evident it appeared to a 
later age, was till then wholly unprecedented in the history of the 


200 



Christian group of nations; only the Greeks and Romans had had 
anything like it; indeed, this extreme sharpness of delineation 
was, so far as our knowledge of past history goes, something 
utterly new, for even the Classical attitude was only a rationalized 
mysticism, which never wholly transcended its oriental origin. 

The turn of the fifteenth century, then, saw a remarkable 
achievement, when man, till then surrendered in unthinking rev¬ 
erent servitude to the secrets of God, eternity, and his own soul, 
opened his eyes and looked round. His glance no longer goes 
up wards to be lost in the sacred mysteries of Heaven; no longer 
downwards to start back before the fiery horrors of Hell; no longer 
inwards to delve into the questions of his uncertain origin and still 
more uncertain future; but forwards, traversing the earth, which 
he knows to be his. The earth is his and he finds pleasure therein — 
for the first time since the happy days of Greece. 

This outlook is queerly profound in its superficiality. It is the 
outlook of an untragic contentment, a Philistine complacency, 
practical shrewdness, unpuzzled common sense, a sort of mixture 
of the view of a Yankee and a ruminant: the world is fair and 
green and full of sap, smelling delicious and tasting better still. 
Drink in as much of it as you can, for God, the special patron of 
all ruminants, undoubtedly gave it to you for that purpose. 

Still the world is more than a tasty plot of grass: it is a building- 
site for building everything conceivable that is useful, beneficial, 
and serviceable: laboratories of medicine, physics, and chemistry; 
institutes and devices for the refinement, raising, and relief of 
existence, for Towers of Babel that rise to heaven and tear its 
secrets from it. It is a field of operations, inconceivably wide and 
inexhaustibly rich, for the realization and intensification of the 
power of pure reason, the reason that takes its stand wholly upon 
itself, all-confident, unfrightened, undeluded. This is the heroic 
side of the new attitude as opposed to its animal side. 

In short, man discovered for the first time for many ages that 
he had reason and that reason is all-powerful. He discovered him¬ 
self as a thinking being, an “ ens rationale ” or rather, he re¬ 
generated these forces in himself; that, if we will, is the meaning 
of the “ Renaissance.” Reason, thus awakening, begins to pene¬ 
trate everything: heaven and earth, water and light, the infi¬ 
nitely great and the infinitely small, the relations of men among 


The c, 
from i 

to 3 


201 



themselves and their relation to God and the hereafter, the sway 
of nature and the laws of art. What wonder, then, that it thinks 
itself alone upon the world ? The whole history of the modern age 
is nothing more than the increasing intensification and super¬ 
intensification of this strict and unidirectional evolutionary ra¬ 
tionalism. The occasional set-backs are only superficial. 

From 1500 to 1900 the European spirit describes a magnificent 
curve, exhausting in systematic progression almost every intel¬ 
lectual possibility. In the sixteenth century, it attained in Italy 
that extreme rationalization of art which we have already dealt 
with, and in the North the rationalization of faith known by the 
name of the Reformation. In the Counter-Reformation and 
Baroque movements there seems at first sight a will to return to 
irrationalism and mysticism, but that is a mere optical delusion. 
For Jesuitism is a creation of supreme logic and intellectual vigour, 
and what does the Baroque signify if not the dominance of a sys¬ 
tematizing, calculating, and analytical logic — since it is its very 
effort to deny this dominance that drives it to take refuge in a 
thousand grotesque masks and artificial disguises, rationalism in 
fact drinking itself into intoxication so as to escape the prosaic 
tediousness of a culture of undiluted common sense. The eight¬ 
eenth century brings with it the undisputed triumph of pure rea¬ 
son in all departments, the century of Voltaire and Kant, of Racine 
and Winckelmann. This quality of extremism would, one would 
think, be unsurpassable, yet surpassed it was by the “ young Ger¬ 
many ” and associated movements in other countries, which suc¬ 
cessfully transmuted art, religion, science, and the whole of life into 
pure political theory, thereby robbing it of its last irrational 
features. Entwined with it is the counter-thread of Romanticism, 
which, like Baroque, though far more impotent, is only a revolt 
against intellectualism, undertaken with purely intellectual 
weapons; a literary Putsch against literature, completely aca¬ 
demic, doctrinaire, programmatic, a clever afergu, of which the 
origins lie in a taste for paradox, for polemics, and for novelty in 
fashions. And then the second half of the nineteenth century 
brings the victory of the “ scientific outlook ” of technology, and 
development in the sense of the Marxian “ negation of negations ” 
ends in suicide and the catastrophe — as inevitable as it was mean¬ 
ingless — of the World War. 


202 



In itself, however, that war was both the finale of a closing age 
and the prelude to a new. As has been pointed out, it is to be 
regarded as one of those traumas which herald the birth of a new 
historical species. It signifies at once a world-downfall and a 
crisis, or, more exactly, the end of that long unbroken Crisis of the 
European soul which we call the modern age. We stand at the 
beginning of a new epoch, and for that reason it is possible to 
write modern history as a backward glance over a completed 
period of development. For the first time for nearly half a mil¬ 
lennium man is becoming displeased with the world, doubtful 
as to whether he possesses it, doubtful of the reason and the 
senses by which he has possessed it hitherto. These are signs, if 
still distant today, and possibilities, beginning to glimmer palely 
on the horizon, that prelude a complete reversal of our world- 
outlook. 

We have grown so accustomed to the usurped supremacy of the 
logical functions that any other attitude of mind strikes us as 
absurd or lower than our own. But this is an entirely gratuitous 
assumption, for, on the contrary, it is our method of grasping the 
world intellectually that is the great exception, the abnormal, and 
the unnatural. An instructive instance in this respect is the work, 
published in 1910, by the French scientist Levy-Bruhl: Les Fonc- 
tions mentales dans les societes inferieures, which on the basis of 
most comprehensive and conscientious observations undertakes 
to give us a psychology of the so-called “ primitive peoples.” Such 
peoples, it is maintained, give to every thing and every being, to 
every tree, animal, man, picture, implement, a visible and an 
invisible existence, of which the latter is the more important; 
dream experiences, moreover, are regarded as real — indeed, as 
more real than waking. “What is for us perception is for the 
natural man more than anything a communion with spirits and 
souls, with the invisible and intangible secret forces which sur¬ 
round him on all sides, determining his fate and occupying in his 
consciousness a greater place than the tangible and visible mate¬ 
rials of his ideas. Accordingly, there is no reason to ascribe to the 
dream a lower place as being a suspiciously subj ective imagining; 
on the contrary, the dream is a privileged form of perception, be¬ 
cause in it the part of material elements is reduced to a minimum, 
and therefore communion with the invisible powers is the most 


The it 
tical 
ferie ; 
world 
the “ Pn 
ti<o 


203 



immediate and most complete.” “ Hence also the respect and rev¬ 
erence given to visionaries, seers, prophets, sometimes even to 
lunatics, to whom are ascribed special capacities of communicat¬ 
ing with the invisible reality.” “ For us the surest proof of objec¬ 
tivity of a perception is the fact that under given identical condi¬ 
tions all observers will receive it at the same time and in the same 
manner. But, for the primitive man, it is a constant experience that 
beings or obj ects manifest themselves to certain individuals to the 
exclusion of all others present. There is no cause for surprise, for 
it strikes everyone as natural.” “ Primitive man does not need ex¬ 
periential evidence to convince himself of the invisible qualities 
of things, and therefore he is wholly unmoved by the contradic¬ 
tions which experience offers to these ideas. For this experience 
restricted to the visible, tangible, concrete in reality leaves unob¬ 
served just the most important things; the secret powers and 
spirits evade it.” In fact, primitive man lives in a world which is 
not perceptible, but is yet real; a mystical world. “ When a doctor 
accomplishes a cure, it is the spirit of the remedy which works on 
the spirit of the illness, and the physical action is unintelligible 
without the mystical. Or, rather, there are in reality no physical 
actions, there are only mystical acts.” 

Pre-iogicai The distinguished author of the work is unfortunately a mod- 
° r iogicai? ern savant w ^° carries on his observations of primitive peoples 
from a superior height and sees in the mind-forms of these societies 
only immature forerunners of his own kind of thought; and so he 
calls the intellectual attitude (though, as he admits, for lack of a 
better name) “ pre-logical,” emphasizing at the same time that it 
is neither antilogical nor alogical. “ By the term ‘ pre-logical ’ I 
only mean to imply that there is no compulsion as there is with us 
to avoid contradictions. This kind of thinking does not, indeed, 
take any pleasure in wilful contradictions — if it did, it would 
be to us simply absurd — but it makes no effort to eradicate 
them.” Nevertheless the word is misleading, since it gives the im¬ 
pression that we have before us a sort of preliminary or experi¬ 
mental stage of logical thinking, which is destined to be overcome 
by the kind of thinking dominant among us. It would be far more 
justifiable to talk of a “ super-logical ” thought, for in fact this 
way of perceiving the world is not by any means limited to primi¬ 
tive peoples; they merely employ these ideas more easily and 

204 



naturally because they themselves are nearer to nature. Probably 
there never has been a culture-people among whom the seer and 
visionary have not held a similarly privileged position; even the 
Greeks, who can hardly be classed among the primitives, saw man 
in a double aspect: in his perceptible appearance and in his in¬ 
visible double, the psyche, which was only liberated after death; 
and the Greeks considered dream-figures also as realities with 
genuine validity. Moreover, the pre-logical form of thinking is the 
hall-mark of all creative activity: all art, all religion, all true 
philosophy, even all true science; for life in itself is “ pre-logical.” 
All nature is miraculous, and every penetrating explanation of a 
fact of experience is nothing but the enunciation of some miracle. 
The philologist is occupied with the wonder of language, the 
botanist with the wonder of plants, the historian with the wonder 
of the world’s course: all of them secrets which no one has yet suc¬ 
ceeded in deciphering. Even the physicist, if he is a man of genius, 
continually finds himself face to face with some new wonder. The 
deeper a science has proved itself capable of penetrating into the 
dom ain s of the miraculous, the more scientific it is. The fact that 
miracles no longer occur does not prove that we are cleverer, but 
that we have lost some vital quality, that our imagination and 
instinct are weakened, that we have become spiritually emptier — 
in a word, that we are stupider. Miracles have ceased to happen 
because we live, not in so advanced and enlightened, but in so 
degraded and God-forsaken an age. 

Rationalism, the will-o’-the-wisp, which arbitrarily illumines 
and validates only those sections of reality which do not contradict 
“ experience ” and the “ laws of thought ” (that is, raw sense- 
impressions with a defective logic fitted on to them), is nothing 
more than a temporary prejudice, destined to disappear after a 
definite period of supremacy. It is undeniable that rationalism is 
not the one and only prejudice, but only one of the many which 
humanity has to pass through in the course of its history; but the 
assumption that it is a better prejudice than the rest, or the only 
sensible one, or, still more, that it is no prejudice at all, is a local 
obsession of modem Europe. 

What I shall try to present, therefore, is the story of a brief 
interlude of the supremacy of reason between two irrationalisms 
of the Middle Ages and of the future, with no more significance in 


ratiom 

interim 


'int 



the whole structure of human history than a passing fashion or 
an interesting fad, a curiosity of cultural history. It is more th^n 
probable, even, that the mankind of the future — possessed of an 
exact astrology and seership, of accurate and uninterrupted con¬ 
tact with higher spirits, of a science of the soul compared to which 
our present psychology will be as the twice-times table compared 
to the infinitesimal calculus, and of a hundred other faculties 
which we cannot even imagine — will see in our modern age with 
its “ achievements ” an epoch of the most befogged, barren, and 
limited superstition that has hitherto been known. Nay, peoples 
of the past — the Egyptians with their splendid art which we 
cannot grasp; the Chinese with their, for us, unattainable matur¬ 
ity of social wisdom; the Babylonians with their irrecoverable 
science of astrology and destiny-calculation; the Indians with 
the unfathomable depths of their religion — would probably feel 
only an indulgent sympathy for those analogous activities of our 
time, though to our liberal self-conceit they may appear as the 
crowning achievements of progress. They would have felt about us 
what Herodotus’ Memphite priests felt about the Greeks, that we 
have remained eternal children. And a more sensitive ear than 
our own might perceive, as a sort of undertone to the whole of 
modern European history, a subtle ironic accompaniment to all 
our songs of progress, the silent laughter of the East. 

Thus the European rationalism which we have to depict was 
but a transitory idee fixe of a small peninsula of Asia, one of the 
most rudimentary, childish, and primitive periods in the history 
of the human spirit, and what we boast of under the name of the 
modern age is in reality the history of a grey antiquity, a sort of 
childhood of humanity, a primitive period of prehistory. 

The three This modern age, at least according to what is taught in all 
ar the schools, was caused by the discovery of America. Actually it 
was just the reverse, for it cannot be too often repeated that a 
generation such as lived at that time, with its new passion for ad¬ 
venture, its urge into the distances, its reawakened realism and 
unquenchable thirst for knowledge, was bound, by the same com¬ 
pelling necessity as lay behind its other discoveries and inventions, 
to reach the West Indies one fine day. A picture or a lyric poem 
is the organic product of a period — even the academic mind by 
now realizes that much — and it is the same with its technical 

206 



achievements. There are no “ chance ” inventions; for instance, 
it is not true that the late nineteenth century owed its extraordi¬ 
narily accelerated tempo of life to the telephone, the telegraph, 
express trains, and the like — it was the new tempo that was 
primary, and the new feeling of space and time was an inborn 
attribute of the generation which made magnetism, electricity, 
and steam-power useful. It had to create these life-forms. 

Moreover, the discovery of America was not even the most 
important of the events which introduced the new age — 
quite apart from the fact that that generation did not in any real 
sense discover America, for it merely landed, not to say stranded, 
there — and for the psychological constitution of an age only 
conscious achievements enter into account. The decisive meta¬ 
morphosis was rather the result of three other facts: the general¬ 
ized use of the gunpowder invented by Berthold Schwarz, the use 
of movable letter type for the mass production of books, and the 
passionate interest in the secrets of alchemy. These three “ black ” 
arts significantly heralded the modem age. 

And besides these well-known phenomena the last third of the 
fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth produced a 
series of other remarkable advances of knowledge and technics. 
In 1471 the first astronomical observatory was built, in 1490 
Martin Behaim constructed the first globe, in 1493 Hartman 
Schedels Liher chronicarum — an epoch-making work on geog¬ 
raphy and history —was published with more than two thousand 
woodcuts. The year 1505 saw the first postal service, 1506 the issue 
by Reuchlin of his Hebrew grammar; in 1510 Peter Hale con¬ 
ceived his spring-driven watch, the famous “Niirnberg egg,” 
which could be carried in the pocket; in 1515 wheel-lock fire-arms 
came into use. There are indications, too, of the modern concep¬ 
tion of time: public clocks began to strike the quarters. The later 
years of the century, too, breathed an energetic intellectual life, for 
Servetus discovered the pulmonary circulation in 1540, and three 
years later—the date of the publication of the Copernican system 
— the great anatomist Vesalius issued his fundamental work De 
humani corporis fabrica, Christopher Rudolff wrote the first 
algebraic treatise in German, Adam Riese the first text-books of 
practical arithmetic, George Agricola laid the foundations of 
mineralogy, and Konrad Gesner of scientific zoology, while 

207 



Gerhard Kremer, cosmographer and etcher (celebrated under his 
Latin name of Mercator), rediscovered Ptolemy’s discovery of 
how to project the grid of meridians and parallels on to a conical 
envelope, and not only so, but improved it so much that “ Mer¬ 
cator’s projection ” is in use to this day. 

Paracelsus But the fact that, when all is said and done, the period is still 
transitional between the Middle Ages and Rationalism is evident 
from the numerous mystics, cabalists, and thaumaturges who 
really set the tone of the intellectual aspirations of the age. All 
these have the aspect of a new zoological species which carries 
about with it the survival of an earlier form from which it sprung: 
in the same way, for instance, that creatures who have completed 
the transition from a water to a land existence may still have 
swimming-bladders, and the double breathing-mechanism of gills 
and lungs. The most popular of these figures were Agrippa von 
Nettesheim and Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus von Hohen- 
heim. Von Nettesheim published in 1510 under the title De oc¬ 
culta philosophia a sort of text-book of magic, which he divided up 
into natural, heavenly, and religious: the first telling us how to 
gain mastery over the earth forces, the second how to penetrate 
the secrets of the heavens, the third how to obtain power over the 
daemons. Paracelsus is one of the most original figures of the whole 
age, humanist and physicist, alchemist and astrologer, chiroman¬ 
cer and necromancer, chirurge and theurge, discoverer of hydro¬ 
gen and rediscoverer of scientific medicine. In his incessant wan¬ 
derings as doctor, teacher, and alchemist he was courted by the 
whole world and surrounded by a noisy following, in which genu¬ 
ine disciples of science mingled indiscriminately with adventurers 
and beggars who hunted for the Philosophers’ Stone — indeed it is 
very difficult at that period to distinguish between vulgar thirst 
for gold and noble thirst for knowledge. On all sides he accom¬ 
plished sensational cures, gathered and disseminated knowledge, 
and aroused such scandal and admiration that in the end he fell 
a victim to a villainous plot concocted by some of his graduate 
colleagues who saw in his genius a danger to their own business. 
Later generations have seen in him, on the one hand, a typical 
charlatan, the low and contemptible quack of the fairs, and, on the 
other, the typical seer, martyr of science, and benefactor of hu¬ 
manity ; and both views are right. 

208 



His own works themselves disclose this double character. 
Bombastic and artificial, portentous and prolix, obscure and over¬ 
laden, they fully justify his name of Bombastus; yet he also hon¬ 
oured the name of Theophrastus, for he was a sincere messenger 
from heaven, an apostle of deep learning and pure wisdom. Again 
and again he emphasizes that it is not in books but in the Book of 
Nature that wisdom is to be found: that what we may find in the 
works of Galen is like some fungoid growth on a tree and that only 
a fool could confuse the fungus and the tree. Briefly, he taught a 
;pantheistic medicine — everything is interdependent, and the 
duty of the doctor is to unravel this interdependence, for the world, 
too, is one great organism, with life and disturbances of life, with 
its own look and its own disease, respiration, pulse, fever, and 
convalescence. 

The Philosophers’ Stone was an article of faith with him; for he 
knew nothing, poor man, of the law of the conservation of the ele¬ 
ments, and yet — has not this very law been lately upset by ra¬ 
dium, which, as everyone knows, can turn itself into another ele¬ 
ment, helium ? Thus does what was once a pillar of science become 
“ unscientific ”; thus does what was crude superstition become 
“ scientific.” Such is the history of the so-called sciences, and the 
consideration of it should lessen the conceit of learned pedants, 
if they were at all capable of allowing healthy human reason to 
operate without bias. 

Furthermore, alchemy was by no means only concerned with 
the making of gold, for the secret substance, the arcanum which 
was the object of its search, was to be a panacea for all ills, like 
the theriaca of antiquity. In fact, the general view of the time 
was that there must be some universal formula which would at a 
single stroke reveal the secret of the world, a master-key which 
was to open the door of all riddles: that is the real significance of 
the Philosophers’ Stone. 

The two other “tendencies of the period,” gunpowder and 
printing, undoubtedly had a far more pernicious influence than 
alchemy. The use of fire-arms brought into warfare an influence 
hitherto unknown which made of it something vulgar, barbarous, 
and mechanical, and gunpowder took from courage its select, 
aristocratic, and individual quality. Knightly mounted combat, 
man against man, with specialized defensive and offensive 

209 


Ca 

fodde 

me 



equipment, which required a particular aptitude, or at least a 
training and practice lasting for years and even generations, pro¬ 
duced a definite class, even a race, to whom courage was a sort of 
calling. The definitive introduction of fire- and infantry-tactics put 
an end to war as the business of a particular kind of individual, 
temperament, and capacity; and courage, in becoming common, 
vanished as a characteristic. Weapons were no longer an organic 
part of the man, like the limbs of his body, but man was an imper¬ 
sonal function of his weapons, a cog in the great military machine. 
Hence a twofold result: first, an enormously increased unscrupu¬ 
lousness and brutality in warfare, since each man had become an 
easily replaceable particle of the whole, a mass-production piece, 
as it were; and second, the extension of military duty to far 
larger sections of the population and finally to the whole. The 
idea of “ man-power ” was only created by the invention of gun¬ 
powder, and so, too, universal compulsory service; for we cannot 
make a thing a duty unless it is within the possibilities of every¬ 
one. Thus the history of the modern age is the history of the pro¬ 
gressive disruption of the conception of war in its original mean¬ 
ing and significance. The last step, World War, exhibits the last 
phase of this dissolution — the war fought for business reasons. 

The printing-press — which, incidentally, would never have 
had so universal an importance if it had not synchronized with 
the invention of cheap and good paper — has a similar levelling 
and mechanizing effect. Gutenberg, or whoever it may have been, 
broke up the wood-blocks through which first pictures, then sig¬ 
natures, and finally even books had been produced, into the con¬ 
stituent letters. Here, indeed, one’s first thought is, we have an 
achievement of individualism, a liberation from the restrictions, 
the associate and corporate life, of the Middle Ages. The elements 
— cells, as it were — which build up the organism of the word, 
the sentence, and the thought, become independent and free, each 
a life in itself capable of infinite combinations. Everything had 
hitherto been a rigid datum, static and conventional; hencefor¬ 
ward all is fluid, variable, dynamic, and individual. Movable 
type is the symbol of Humanism. But the reverse of the picture is 
that everything is mechanized, becoming mechanized, control¬ 
lable, uniform, and of equated value. Every letter is a unit with 
equal rights in the organism of the book, but it is at the same 


210 



time something impersonal, serving, and technical, an atom 
among atoms. There are similar products of the new spirit in other 
departments. We have just spoken of warfare, in which each 
knight had been a battle in himself, but the soldier is merely an 
anonymous unit. In the same way the citizen is replaced by the 
subject, the artisan by the workman, goods by gold; and all four, 
soldier, subj ect, workman, and money, have the common quality 
that they are equal magnitudes, mere quantities which can be 
added, shifted, and exchanged at will; their value depends not so 
much on their personal properties as on their number. We see the 
same, too, as regards personal comfort and the whole outward 
conduct of life. The man of the modem age has more practical 
furniture, quicker transport, better methods of heating and illumi¬ 
nation, more comfortable houses, better centres of education, 
than had mediaeval man, and we are assured by these (and count¬ 
less other) means of a freer, less burdened, and more individual 
existence. But these furnishings, these methods of transport, and 
the like completely equate one another. The truth is that in his¬ 
tory as in nature we have to pay for everything: we acquire 
individuality and lose -personality. 

Such were the decisive transformations in the world-view, and 
to them was now added the astronomical reinterpretation which 
began with Copernicus. The treatise De revolutionibus orbium 
ccelistium, libri VI, which contained his new analysis of the 
cosmic system, was only published in the year of his death; and, 
even so, it contained an introduction by the Protestant theologian 
Osiander, who arbitrarily declared the whole thing to be merely 
a hypothesis — obviously because Luther and Melanchthon had 
expressed themselves adversely: “ The fool is trying to overthrow 
the whole art of astronomy,” said Luther; “ but the Bible tells us 
that Joshua made the sun and not the earth stand still.” In fact 
the work had been written far earlier—as Copernicus himself 
said, in his dedication (which, paradoxically, was addressed to 
Pope Paul III), it had been lying four times nine years in his study 
— and it must have long been available to the public through 
secret channels. As soon as a piece of knowledge is actually there, 
it is irrepressible; it infects the whole atmosphere and spreads 
like a bacillus. 

The discovery, for that matter, was not wholly new. Two 


Cofen 


2X1 



The con¬ 
quest of 
cc Cafe 
Non ” 


hundred and fifty years before Christ a similar system had been 
worked out by Aristarchus of Samos — the sun and stars unmov¬ 
ing, the earth rotating round itself and round the sun — and 
Plutarch says even of Plato that he had “ not left the earth in the 
centre of the cosmos, but had assigned this place to a better star.” 
The Greek, however, wanted to regard the world as a limited, 
closed circle, with himself as observer in the centre; he wanted a 
“ cosmos,” a beautiful, artistically organized whole, easy to im¬ 
agine and comfortably synoptic, like a temple, a statue, or a city- 
state : the heliocentric idea failed to correspond to his view of the 
world and was, therefore, false. In the time of Copernicus man was 
beginning to feel the passion for distances, at the same time as the 
passion for order, similarity, and regularity, and thus wanted a 
universe that could be expressed in formulae, one that spoke, as 
it were, the language of mathematics. The new astronomy, t ha t 
seemed to reduce man to nothingness, made him in reality the 
unveiler, the seer, and even the legislator of the cosmos. A world — 
however terrible in its infinity, however vast in relation to an earth 
that swam in it like a faintly lighted bubble — that he could calcu¬ 
late and subject to his intellect, he preferred to one which was 
well rounded, but veiled in darkness and secrecy and subject to 
an impenetrable destiny. It is one of the greatest falsifications of 
history to harp again and again on the idea that the heliocentric 
system made man more modest and humble, for the contrary is 
the truth. 

In any case, what Copernicus taught was a universe that was 
heliocentric indeed and, therefore, immeasurably vaster than 
Ptolemy’s, but was certainly not infinite; for it had not only a 
fixed sun enthroned at its centre, but a fixed outermost shell (the 
“ eighth sphere ”) beyond which nothing else existed. His world 
was thus still essentially different from ours, not only smaller, 
but simpler, more stable, more solid, more synoptic, than our 
universe of countless solar systems that, disparate by infinite dis¬ 
tances, rush with colossal speed through an abyss of which all we 
can say is that it never comes to an end. 

The really symbolic instrument, however, of the rising age 
was not the astronomical chart, not even the printing-press or the 
retort or the cannon, but the compass. Discovered long ago, it 
was only now that it began to be trusted. As we have stressed 


212 



many times, the essence of the new attitude is an irresistible and 
unprecedented impulse into distance, an insatiable urge to un¬ 
veil, to pierce, and to explore everything: and hence it is called 
“ the Age of the Discoveries.” The discoveries, however, were not 
themselves the essential; what was decisive was the tendency to 
discover, the noble quest for its own sake — this was the dsemonic 
emotion which inspired the minds of the age. Travelling, which 
had hitherto been regarded as a necessary evil, becomes the su¬ 
preme pleasure. Everywhere there is a wandering, restless move¬ 
ment of students, artisans, soldiers, artists, merchants, scholars, 
preachers; in fact, certain occupations — for example, that of 
the Humanist or the doctor — were pursued almost entirely on 
the move. A man’s value was measured by the extent of his trav¬ 
els, and in almost all occupations this constituted a superior 
qualification, the mark of a sort of aristocracy. The men of that 
age experienced life by faring, in the literal sense of the word, 
through it, and it was inevitable that this new and colossal energy 
of mobility should soon take possession of the water-ways too. 

At the head of the modern discoveries stands the figure of the 
Infante Henry of Portugal, who, though he never went on a 
voyage, himself earned, by the magnificent energy with which he 
backed all maritime efforts, the name of Henry the Navigator. His 
lips never touched a wineglass or a woman; his one passion was 
the opening up of the African coasts. Until his day the furthest 
limit passable for ships had been assumed to be Cape Bojador, 
beyond which further progress was reputed to be impossible, be¬ 
cause the sea was so dense with salt that the prow could not cleave 
it — hence its name, “ Cape Non.” The general opinion backed 
the view, first expressed by Aristotle and confirmed by Ptolemy, 
that in the tropics there could only be desert, since the heat of 
the sun’s rays falling vertically would tolerate no vegetation. But, 
in spite of all, Henry instigated the dispatch of a squadron, and in 
1445 one of his subjects could tell him that he had discovered 
more southerly coasts with lush vegetation and vast tracts of 
palm: “ All this,” he ironically commented, “ I write with permis¬ 
sion of his grace Master Ptolemy, who uttered right good things 
concerning the divisions of the world, but was on this point much 
mistaken. Countless are the black peoples that dwell at the Equa¬ 
tor, and vast the height to which trees rise there, for it is in the 

213 



Columbus 


south, beyond all places, that the strength and fullness of vegeta¬ 
tion increase.” In the very same year was reached the fertile 
promontory which since then has borne the name of Cape Verde. 
A vigorous trade in the form of barter was rapidly developed, the 
chief exports being gold-dust, musk, and ivory: and rich sugar 
plantations were established on Madeira. Slave-getting was one 
of the business accompaniments of these first voyages of dis¬ 
covery, but the Infante himself had thoughts for nothing but 
their scientific value. 

With his death in 1460, enterprise comes to a halt, and no 
im portant, progress was made until the eighties. In 1482, on a 
voyage in which Martin Behaim is reputed to have had a share, 
the mouth of the Congo was discovered, and in i486 Bartolomeo 
Diaz reached the southernmost point of Africa, which, by reason 
of the terrible storms that raged there, he called the Cabo Tor- 
mentoso, but which was rechristened Cabo da Boa Esperanga by 
King Joao II. Diaz even rounded the cape and was already mak¬ 
ing his way into the Indian Ocean when he was forced by his crew 
to return home. The hope expressed in the new name given by 
the King to the cape was that of reaching the East Indies by a 
southerly route, and it was soon fulfilled. Twelve years later Vasco 
da Gama reached Calicut, the capital city of the Indian kingdom 
of Malabar and at the same time the focus of traffic with the 
Moluccas, the “ Spice Islands.” From this dates the Portuguese 
supremacy in the European spice trade. 

Six years earlier, in the service of Spain, the Genoese Cristo- 
foro Colombo — Cristobal Colon, as he thenceforth called him¬ 
self — had made the first move to the westward. He picked in the 
first instance the worst route to America — namely, the longest 
— and he would probably never have reached his goal if peculiarly 
favourable winds had not neutralized his mistake. His plan was 
to “ reach the Orient by the westward route.” Thus he was fully 
acquainted with the spherical form of the earth as it had been 
depicted in Martin Behaim’s famous “ Earth Apple,” but he 
shared the error that that globe displays of treating Asia as one 
coherent mass which embraced the earth horseshoewise. It is not 
quite exact to say, as is usually said, that he hoped to reach the 
“West Indies” in this way, for what he expected — and per¬ 
fectly rightly from his own point of view — to reach was Cathay 


214 



(China) or its outlying island of Zipangu (Japan). His expecta¬ 
tion was supported by the work of the famous explorer Marco 
Polo, who had in actual fact, two hundred years previously, 
reached China and Japan, but eastwards by the land route. And 
indeed Columbus took Cuba, the first big island he touched at, 
to be Zipangu, and when, a little later, he discovered the neigh¬ 
bouring island of Haiti, which he called Espanola, he modified his 
view to the extent of calling Haiti Zipangu and making Cuba the 
Chinese mainland. He was so obsessed by the idea that he was on 
Asiatic soil that even for his last voyage he demanded Arabian 
interpreters for dealings with the Great Khan of Cathay and 
actually mistook a flock of flamingos, which he saw gravely stalk¬ 
ing through the night, for white-robed Chinese priests. On his sec¬ 
ond voyage he had touched at Jamaica, on his third had reached 
the mouth of the Orinoco and the mainland, and on his last, Hon¬ 
duras, which he declared to be Farther India. Four years later, 
in 1506, he died, in the same year as Martin Behaim, and still 
with no idea that he had discovered a new continent. 

It is therefore no crying injustice to him that the continent 
does not bear the name of Columbia; though there is still less 
excuse for naming it after Amerigo Vespucci. The discovery of 
America as an event was imminent. It was in the air and would 
have occurred without Columbus, nor would it even have been 
long delayed. “ America would have been discovered ” — in the 
words of the great naturalist Von Baer — “ even if Columbus had 
died in his cradle.” In 1497 the Venetian Giovanni Gabotto — 
John Cabot — sailing under the English flag, reached the coast 
of Labrador and thus touched the mainland a year before Colum¬ 
bus; in 1500 Pedro Cabral, driven in a westerly direction during 
a voyage to Calicut, discovered Brazil, and, with it (by such a 
chance) a much shorter route between Europe and America. 
Columbus, moreover, not only in a scientific sense, but from a 
practical point of view, could make nothing of his discovery. His 
government of the new provinces was pure terrorism and dis¬ 
covers only the ugly side of him — immoderate avarice, un¬ 
scrupulous cruelty to the natives, dishonesty, and blind jealousy 
of his own countrymen. Every administrative arrangement which 
he instituted was equally inhuman and short-sighted, as, for in¬ 
stance, his callous decimation of the native population by slave- 

215 



Round the 
globe in 
eleven 
hundred 
days 


trading, their foolish exhaustion in plantation work, the trans¬ 
portation of Spanish criminals to Espanola, the introduction of 
wild dogs to hunt human beings. Avarice and greed exercised 
such power over him that in the end all his nobler impulses were 
smothered and all his more ideal qualities obscured: even his very 
entry into the New World was marred by his cheating the sailor 
who first sighted land of his promised reward. The only credit 
due to him is for the unwearying, unshakable patience and ability 
with which he prosecuted his schemes. Apart from that his work 
was the result of fantastic enthusiasm, greed, and egoism, and 
his whole voyage a chance shot in a lottery, which by a fluke 
achieved priority: a nautical record-breaking of minor sporting 
interest. Columbus was a hit-or-miss experimenter: he set out 
to try a definite direction and found America; he played about 
with an egg until it stood, and one success proves just as much as 
the other about his genius. 

The greatest of the discovery-voyages of the age — even if 
there were no better reason for calling it so than the fact that 
it was carried through consciously—was the circumnavigation of 
the globe by Femao Magalhaes, a Portuguese who had entered 
the Spanish service. He left Spain in September 1519, sailed, 
to the accompaniment of mutinies and plots among his comrades, 
down the east coast of South America to the southernmost point 
of the mainland, passed through the extremely difficult and dan¬ 
gerous strait that is named after him, between the continent and 
the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, and reached the Pacific 
Ocean, which he then crossed in a north-westerly direction. After 
a four months’ voyage of appalling difficulty and privations, dur¬ 
ing which the crews were finally driven to feeding on leather and 
rats, he reached the Ladrones and a few days later the Philippines, 
where in April 1521 he was killed in a (recklessly begun and im¬ 
prudently managed) fight with the natives. His ship the Vittoria 
sailed on under the command of Sebastian d’Elcano to the Moluc¬ 
cas, whence it came through the Indian Ocean, via the Cape of 
Good Hope and the Cape Verde Islands, safely home to the same 
harbour from which it had set out nearly three years before. The 
voyagers had noticed on their arrival at the island of Santiago, 
in July 1522, that the local calendar indicated Thursday, July 10, 
while according to their own calculation it was only Wednesday, 

'irfi 



July 9, for, by sailing from west to east they had lost a day. If 
they had sailed in the opposite direction, they would have been 
in the same case as the hero of Round the World in Eighty Days 
who — everyone knows the delightful and unexpected point of 
the story — without knowing it gained a day and won his bet. 
And they were probably as astonished and delighted over their 
discovery as Mr. Phileas Fogg, for it provided absolutely irre¬ 
futable evidence of the spherical shape of the earth. 

At about the same time Central America, and about ten years 
later the western coast of South America, were opened up to 
Europeans. Let us pause a little over these two achievements, 
the conquest of Mexico and Peru, for they are among the most 
shocking and senseless performances in the whole of history. 

On his landing in Mexico in 1519 Hernando Cortez found 
there a highly developed and, indeed, over-developed culture, far 
superior to that of Europe; but, a white man and a Catholic, 
blinded by the double conceit of his religion and his race, he could 
not rise to the idea that beings of a different colour and a different 
world-view could be even his equals. It is tragic and grotesque to 
see with what arrogance the Spaniards, members of the most 
brutal, superstitious, and uncultured nation of their continent, 
looked down upon this culture, of the bases of which they had not 
the smallest inkling. Nevertheless, we cannot deny all greatness 
to the figure of Cortez; he may have been a conquistador like the 
rest of them, coarse, cunning, avaricious, untroubled by higher 
moral restraints, but he was not wanting in fertile courage, po¬ 
litical shrewdness, and a sort of elementary decency. Nor did he 
ever act through mere love of bloodshed — he had, indeed, a sort 
of horror of it, and his abolition of the blood-sacrifice of the 
Aztecs was perhaps the only action that was worthy of civilized 
man in the whole course of the Spanish Conquista. His followers 
— with some few exceptions, notably among the clergy—were 
fellows of the lowest sort, rowdies and criminals ejected by then- 
native land, down-and-out Spaniards, the scum of the scum of 
contemporary Europe. The sole motive for the expedition was a 
vulgar lust of gold: as Cortez remarked with a certain superior 
irony to the governor sent by Montezuma to meet him, the 
Spaniards suffer from a heart-disease for which gold is a pecul¬ 
iarly suitable remedy.” _ 


The crlr, 
of U 
Conquis 


217 



The late 
culture of 
Mexico 


The culture of Mexico is to be imagined as being more or less 
in the same stage as that of the Empire in Rome. It is evident that 
it had already reached the phase which Spengler calls “ Civiliza¬ 
tion ” and which is characterized by a life of huge cities, of 
refined comforts, of autocratic forms of government and expan¬ 
sionist imperialism, of massiveness in architecture and extrava¬ 
gance in ornament, of ethical fatalism and barbarized religion. 
The capital, Tenochtitlan, built on platforms in a wondrous lake, 
displayed huge temples and obelisks, extensive arsenals, hospitals, 
barracks, zoological and botanical gardens, barbers’ shops, va¬ 
pour-baths, and fountains, tapestries and paintings of gorgeous 
feather-mosaic, costly goldsmith’s work and finely tooled plates 
of tortoise-shell, splendid woollen cloaks and leather gear, ceilings 
of fragrant carved wood, hot-plates, scent-sprayers, and hot-water 
systems. In the weekly markets, attended by hundreds of thou¬ 
sands, wares of every conceivable kind were exposed for sale. A 
wonderfully organized postal service, of fast couriers, plying on 
the network of well-built highways and ramps which traversed 
the land, carried every item of news with amazing speed and pre¬ 
cision; police and fiscal arrangements worked with the greatest 
accuracy and reliability. The kitchens of the wealthy were fragrant 
with the most select foods and drinks, game, fish, waffles, pre¬ 
serves, delicate soups, spiced dishes; and withal a number of 
things unknown to the Old World, turkey, chocolatl —the fa¬ 
vourite dish of the Mexicans, to them no drink, but a fine creme, 
eaten cold with vanilla and other spices— pulque , an intoxicat¬ 
ing drink made from aloes (which also yielded a tasty artichoke¬ 
like vegetable and first-class sugar), and yeti, tobacco, smoked 
either mixed with liquidambar in gilded wooden pipes, or like a 
cigar in fine silver holders. The streets were so clean, a Spanish 
text tells us, that in passing along them one soiled one’s feet no 
more than one s hands. The population was as honest as it was 
clean: all houses were left open, and when a dwelling was unoc¬ 
cupied, its owner merely set up a reed on the door-mat to indicate 
his absence, without fear of theft; in fact, the courts were almost 
never called upon to deal with cases of violating property. Writ¬ 
ing was by means of a very elaborate picture-writing, and there 
were also lightning painters who could fix all occurrences with 
amazing rapidity in almost speaking designs. The mathematical 

218 



sense of the Aztecs must have been highly developed, for their 
arithmetical system was built up on the difficult principle of rais¬ 
ing to a power, the basic number being 20, the next 20 2 or 400, the 
next 20 8 or 8000, and so on; further, the Maya are supposed to 
have invented, independently of the Indians, the idea of zero, a 
fertile and complicated notion which only made its way into Eu¬ 
rope slowly, via the Arabs. 

The American cultures were probably part of that great girdle 
of cultures which embraced the whole inhabited earth in what 
are for us prehistoric times: extending from Egypt and Nearer 
Asia over India and China to Central America and presumably 
including the two pre-Classical European worlds of Etruria and 
the Aegean. Under the name of Pan-Babylonism the theory of this 
belt of cultures has evoked much opposition and found much sup¬ 
port, and as a matter of fact the Aztecs do show considerable 
similarity to the Babylonians in their chronology, their picture¬ 
writing, and their star-worship, and moreover there is a whole 
series of things which remind us vividly of Egypt, such as the 
type of government, a mixture of God-kingship and priestly des¬ 
potism, the bureaucracy whose chief administrative task was a 
pedantic guardianship of the masses, the carefully systematized 
and ceremonious etiquette of intercourse, the monstrosity and 
animal forms of their gods, the great gift for naturalistic por¬ 
traiture, combined with a strong tendency towards stylization of 
the higher forms, the extravagant luxury and exuberant massive¬ 
ness of their buildings. 

Most remarkable of all, however, are the parallels between the 
Mexican and Christian religions. The crown of the emperor, who 
was at the same time high priest, was of almost identical form 
with the papal tiara. The mythology knew the stories of Eve and 
the serpent, the Flood and the tower of Babel. In somewhat 
altered form they knew the sacraments of baptism, confession, 
and communion, and they had monks who spent their time 
in vigil, fasting, and scourging. The cross was a holy symbol and 
they had even a dim idea of the Trinity and the Incarnation; 
Their ethical commands sometimes show an almost verbal 
identity with the Bible. One of their doctrines ran: “ Keep peace 
with all men, endure insults with patience, for God, who sees 
all, will avenge thee”; and another: “Whoso looks with too 


Chris, 

elementi 

A 


a t r \ 



The white 
God 


great intentness at a married woman commits adultery with 
his eyes.” 

This religion, like the contemporary Christianity, was stained 
by the institution of human sacrifice, in which captives played the 
role of heretics. They were led on fixed days to the temple, when a 
priest, specially appointed for the service, cut open the breast with 
a sharp knife of bone and tore out the still beating and smo kin g 
heart, to be cast upon the altar of the god. Quite naturally, this 
custom has revolted later generations and given rise to the idea 
that the Mexicans were after all only a race of savages, but there 
is much that may be said in their excuse. In the first place, the 
custom was restricted to the Aztecs — the Toltecs did not know 
the practice — and even among them it seemed that it was dis¬ 
appearing, for at least in Cholula, the second city of Mexico, there 
was a temple of the god Quetzalcoatl, in whose worship human 
sacrifice was replaced by a vegetable sacrifice. Moreover, there 
was no lust for blood or cruelty for its own sake, this being, even 
if a barbaric, yet a religious ceremony, through which the be¬ 
liever sought to win the favour of his god, and so little dishonour¬ 
ing that occasionally the pious offered themselves as willing vic¬ 
tims. It was merely fear and superstition and was certainly not 
on a lower moral level than the Spanish autos-da-fe, of which the 
motive was fanaticism and vengeance, and undoubtedly higher 
than the gladiatorial games at Rome, where captives were killed 
as an enjoyment. 

One of the most striking elements of the Mexican religion was 
the belief in the second coming of the god Quetzalcoatl, of whom 
it was believed that he had in ancient days ruled his people and 
taught them every useful art and instituted all existing social 
arrangements, and that he had finally sailed away in his magic 
boat with the promise to return some day. It happened that just 
at this time the priests had declared the moment of the god’s re¬ 
turn to be near; he was expected from the east and it was said 
that he would be distinguished from the Aztecs by his white skin, 
blue eyes, and fair beard. All these prophecies were to be fulfilled, 
and it was this touching faith, exploited in the most shameless 
way by the Spaniards, that largely enabled a runagate band of 
illiterate bandits not merely to subdue this world, but to trample 
it to pieces. There were other reasons: the deficient physical en- 


V.OCk 



ergy of the natives, whose existence seems to have become some¬ 
what vegetative or plantlike through the enervating tropical cli¬ 
mate and centuries of peace and luxury; the equipment of the 
Europeans with fire-arms, artillery, steel armour, and horses, all 
of them wholly unknown to the Mexicans and producing on them, 
in addition to the physical effects, an amazing moral impression; 
the higher level of Spanish tactics, which bore somewhat the same 
relation to the Aztec as the Macedonian had to the Persian; the 
inner disunion of the kingdom and the desertion of powerful 
tribes. The chief reason, however, may well have been that the 
Mexican culture had reached the period of its agony and was 
doomed, in some way or other, to collapse. We can follow the 
spectacle, throughout the whole of history, of older cultures giv¬ 
ing place to the younger: the Sumerian to the Babylonian, the 
Babylonian to the Assyrian, Assyrian to Persian, Persian to 
Greek, Greek to Roman, and Roman to Germanic. But we ob¬ 
serve, in all these cases, that the lower assimilates the higher; for 
instance, the Babylonians took over Sumerian cuneiform, Per¬ 
sians the Chaldean astrology, Rome Greek art and philosophy, 
the Germans the Roman Church. But in America nothing of the 
sort, for the Indian culture vanished without leaving a trace be¬ 
hind. This instance, unique in the whole of history, is, however, 
explicable by the also unique fact of a whole people being, not 
brought into subjection by another people (barbaric or other¬ 
wise), but ruined and killed off by an infamous band of robbers, 
and thus it came to pass that while long-vanished cultures like 
the Egyptian and Mesopotamian, not to mention the Greek or 
Roman, still exercise their fructifying influence, the shameful 
crime of the Conquista robbed humanity of a noble and unique 
world-view and made it, so to say, poorer by a sense. 

The kindred culture of Peru stood perhaps still higher than 
the Aztec—though they seem to have known nothing of each 
other, there is great resemblance between the two peoples. The 
whole land was covered with miracles of engineering. Countless 
canals, aqueducts, and terraceworks brought it to the extreme of 
fertility, and the utmost care was spent in cultivating it, vertically 
no less than horizontally. Even above the clouds there were or¬ 
chards. High-roads which overcame every obstacle threaded the 
whole district, now making use of hewn steps and now of levelled 



ravines, now passing through long tunnels and now over ingenious 
bridges. Peru taught the whole of Europe the principles of manur¬ 
ing — the introduction of guano has revolutionized our agricul¬ 
ture. Incomparable, too, was its textile art, which incidentally (by 
means of a complicated system of knotting that is still unde¬ 
ciphered) served also as writing. They were masters of carving, 
and they had a regular drama. Their government was a sort of 
communism with an aristocratic superstructure and a theocratic 
apex, and it is probably no exaggeration to say that our own con¬ 
tinent has never produced a form of government of like wisdom, 
justice, and benevolence. In their splendid irrigation system, in 
their religion, which honoured the sun as the highest god and the 
moon as his sister-wife, and in their mummy cult they remind us 
even more startlingly of the Egyptians than do the Aztecs. 

The conquest of Peru is a more revolting story even than that 
of Mexico, a chain of the most infamous acts of treachery and 
bestiality. The name of the rascal Francisco Pizarro, who was not 
for nothing suckled by a sow, deserves to survive in the memory 
of posterity as the proverbial instance of treacherous meanness, 
shameless avarice, and bestial coarseness, as the basest term of 
abuse which one man can fling at another. The story of his 
“ conquest ” is briefly as follows. He arranged an interview with 
Atahuallpa, the Peruvian Emperor, to which the latter came with 
a large but unarmed escort; during the conversation Pizarro sud¬ 
denly gave a sign, at which the soldiers pressed forward, cut down 
the whole of the imperial suite, and took Atahuallpa prisoner. He, 
like Montezuma, a man of such delicacy, gentleness, and nobility 
as was inconceivable in contemporary Europe, was at first thun¬ 
derstruck by this foul deed, which would have been scorned by 
any moderately decent brigand captain; but, soon collecting him¬ 
self, he so far maintained his calm and dignity that in his con¬ 
versation with the Spanish rabble he even condescended to jest¬ 
ing remarks. Realizing very soon that the invaders were chiefly 
concerned with his treasures, he promised them as ransom a 
whole room filled with gold to the height of a man standing with 
aim up stretched. Pizarro agreed and carried off a colossal booty, 
such as had never been gathered in one heap in his native land. 
Then, once he had the gold, he caused the Inca to be strangled, 
on charges so trumped up, so ridiculous in their brutal stupidity, 


222 



that some even of his own bandits protested. Such was the achieve¬ 
ment of Christians in the year 1533, exactly fifteen hundred years 
after the crucifixion of their Saviour. 

Pizarro ended his career like most murderers, being killed by 
one of his own boon companions. And all Spain had loss and not 
profit by his deeds of shame, for it fell more and more a victim 
to the enervating and stupefying habit of living on stolen goods, 
so that within a bare hundred years it lay as it has lain ever since, 
a soulless, mortifying corpse, gloomy, sullen, self-consuming, a 
victim of its own dullness of intellect, its own appalling barren¬ 
ness of heart, its own fierce brutality. The rest of Europe, too, has 
fallen to the divine nemesis, for from the New World it imported 
not only maize and tobacco, tomatoes and bananas, cocoa and 
potatoes, vanilla and cochineal, but— gold and syphilis. 

The penalty of lust, the “ venerie,” rapidly became the fash¬ 
ionable disease. Almost all the outstanding figures of the age, ac¬ 
cording to contemporary evidence, were syphilitics — Alexander 
and Caesar Borgia, Julius II and Leo X, Celtes and Hutten, 
Charles V and Francis I, the last of whom, indeed, acquired the 
disease quite romantically, for, according to Mezeray, author of 
the famous Histoire de France, the husband of the beautiful Fer- 
roniere, with whom the King was carrying on an intrigue, inten¬ 
tionally infected himself so that he might destroy the King: and 
the disease did actually hasten his death. So widespread w r as it 
that no one was ashamed to confess to the fact; it was a common 
topic in society talk and became a theme for poets. It is un¬ 
doubtedly one of the chief causes of the darkening of Europe which 
begins with the close of the Middle Ages, and it introduced into 
the highest and the lowest, the most physical and the most meta¬ 
physical activity of man, an element of suspicion that doubled the 
poison. 

American gold became perhaps an even worse curse than 
syphilis. The sudden colossal influx of the valuable metals, of 
which there had been a great dearth during the Middle Ages, was 
an immediate cause in the extension of money-economy. Indeed, 
it made a real capitalistic organization for the first time possible, 
enormously increasing the gulf between rich and poor and bring¬ 
ing about a universal rise of prices with which the rise of wages 
could not keep pace. The first half of the sixteenth century saw 

223 


A meria 
return gi 



Faust 


prices rising a hundred and a hundred and fifty, in some cases 
even two hundred or two hundred and fifty per cent. The gift and 
vengeance of America for Europe were plague and poverty; or 
rather two plagues, syphilis and gold-fever. Everyone wanted to 
get rich as quickly and with as little effort as possible; even the 
soil of their native land was greedily searched for treasure, and 
actually new sources of the noble metals were discovered here and 
brought under exploitation by improved mining technique. 

We see, then, that the period of incubation is over, the poison 
begins to work and grips the European organism, head, heart, 
and marrow. 

All the tendencies of the dawning era were effectively con¬ 
centrated by popular imagination in the figure of Faust. Faust is 
an alchemist and a black magician; what he aims at by means of 
his science and his magic is wealth and worldly power; he is a 
Protestant and a theologian, a fellow-countryman of Melanch- 
thon, contemporary of Luther and for a time resident in Witten¬ 
berg. He is also a Humanist and a lover of the classics, offers to 
recover the lost comedies of Plautus and Terence, summons the 
shades of the Homeric heroes from Hades, unites himself, secretly 
rejuvenated, with Helena and so symbolically fulfils the intent of 
the Renaissance, the regeneration of the Gothic spirit by its 
union with the Classical. For centuries Faust was even reputed 
to be the real inventor of book-printing, for according to one 
tradition he made the matrices for the casting of movable types 
while Gutenberg was still printing with whole wood-blocks. This 
claim is disputed nowadays, but it was a sound popular instinct, 
nevertheless, that made him the creator of that invention by 
which, more than by any one other, men’s autocratic impulse to 
intellectual expansion was nourished and satisfied. Faust, in con¬ 
tracting himself to the Devil, demands a written bond from him 
to answer all questions and to answer always truly; in this he is, 
therefore, the very personification of the deepest and most funda¬ 
mental element of the time, an unbounded lust for knowledge, 
coupled with the belief that there are secret formulae which can 
answer every riddle. And in another way, too, the legend proves 
its sureness of insight, in displaying Faust as the ally and bonds¬ 
man of the Devil and so giving profound expression to the fact 
that all “ pure reason ” is of the Devil, and all striving for it a 

224 



sort of blind hope roused in man by the ensnaring words of the 
serpent Satan, the words written on the first page of the Bible: 
“ eritis sicut Deus” The very name Faustus, the Fortunate, ex¬ 
presses the basic tendency which heralds a new age, the belief 
that what concerns us in this world is good fortune, and that 
good fortune consists in power, sense-satisfaction, and knowledge. 

The extraordinary quality in Goethe’s Faust-poem is the 
genius with which (perhaps even unconsciously) he has made it 
a compendium of the whole cultural history of the new age. Faust 
begins in mysticism and ends in Realpolitik. He stands for the 
whole temptation of modern man, which seduces him in a thou¬ 
sand forms and disguises, alcohol, sex, Weltschmerz, superman- 
yearnings ; and withal he is the type of man unsatisfied, recog¬ 
nizing himself in every individual being, straining in agony after 
the unity beneath the appearances, but always in vain. The 
tragedy of Faust is the tragedy of modem man, of rational¬ 
ism, scepticism, and realism. At Faust’s side is the Devil, but 
Mephisto is not at all evil; he is merely frivolous, cynical, 
materialistic, and, above all, clever; the embodiment of pure, 
cold, barren intelligence, a highly differentiated brain-being and 
the completely logical representative of self-regarding genius. 
The intellectual, the purely intellectual, is the destructive dse- 
mon in modern man, and Mephisto has the fatal keenness 
of intellectualism, sensualism, and nihilism. He displays to 
the wrestling genius of Faust the whole world and lays it 
at his feet, but Faust has to confess that he has been deceived, that 
this world only seemingly belongs to him, that in fact it belongs to 
his reason, which is itself unreal. Mediaeval man, whose idea of 
the world was narrow and in some ways distorted, was possessed 
by the vision, for it was to him concrete and grasped by the heart 
as well as the head; but since the close of the Middle Ages there 
were no realities more. The last great reality which Europe had 
lived through was the madness of the incubation period. Then 
men did still live in a world that was real, for the mad do not, as 
superficial observers imagine, live in a world of phantoms, but, on 
the contrary, in one where everything is vivid and real, even their 
dreams, their hallucinations, their obsessions. But since that time 
everything that has happened has been but a desperate and unsuc¬ 
cessful attempt to grasp reality. 

225 



Triumph 
of man 
over God, 


From the 
theoretic 
to the 
geocentric 
world- 
picture 


It is hard to avoid the feeling that the conclusion of Faust is 
essentially unmoral. Faust is saved by love — but without suffi¬ 
cient cause. For there are two possibilities. One is that everyone 
can be saved by the divine Love, but in that case there are none th at 
are damned and Faust only escapes the Devil because all escape 
him. That is not Goethe’s presentation, for he accepts the mediseval 
picture, complete with heaven and hell, blessedness and damna¬ 
tion. The second alternative is nearer the intention; namely that 
Faust is saved because he has led an especially pure and pious 
God-pleasing life. But that is just what he had not done. He never 
even strove against, let alone conquered, sin and the Tempter 
within; he never once fought for his God; the thought did not en¬ 
ter his head. Heaven is introduced only at the beginning and the 
end — an impressive curtain or sublime setting, an imposing patch 
of colour, which could not very well be omitted from the great 
canvas of Faust’s soul-history — but the intervening scenes are 
unadulterated earthly life. Faust is a polymath, a philanthropist, 
a man of the world, colonist, banker, weather-maker, connoisseur, 
engineer, and much more besides, but never a searcher after God. 
How could he, then, ever receive salvation? There is more religion 
in the few words of the Bible concerning the threefold temptation 
of Christ than in the whole of Faust; Faust has temptations, in¬ 
deed, but they are not the Christian’s temptations. 

Faust’s struggle is philosophical, academic, mundane, the typi¬ 
cal struggle of modern man, and it is characteristic of the poet 
that he regards the conflict as the tragic conflict, as the tragedy of 
the whole of humanity. Always we smell the eighteenth century, 
with its “ common sense,” “ pure reason,” with its one-sided out¬ 
look of a Classicism that aimed at cultivation and knowledge; 
but we smell the nineteenth century, too, the century of activism, 
supreme technology, and imperialism. The “ crowning ” achieve¬ 
ment of Faust’s life-work is that he drains a marsh. 

The victory of man over nature — that is the tune which rings 
out the life of Faust; and with that same tune, too, closes the 
tragedy of our age. At the beginning, as in the opening of Faust, 
comes the victory of man over God — that is, the discovery of an 
Independence of Man based on his ability to discover the laws of 
nature, an omnipotence founded on sense and reason. Agrippa von 
Nettesheim, from whom Goethe borrowed more than one trait of 

226 



his Faust, says in a Latin epigram: “Agrippa is philosopher, 
daemon, hero, god, and all.” Only a very external and superficial 
judgment could assert that it was at the beginning of the Modern 
Age, and as a result of astronomical discovery, that the anthropo¬ 
centric attitude was abandoned. The exact opposite is true. The 
mediaeval feeling, firmly rooted in what was beyond man—in 
God, in the other world, in faith, and in the unconscious — was re¬ 
placed by one which was fixed in what is human and nothing but 
human, in this world, in experience, in reason and consciousness. 
Man, the measure of all things, takes the place of God, earth of 
heaven; a hitherto theocentric view is replaced by one that is an¬ 
thropocentric and geocentric, and the earthly, regarded hitherto 
with mistrust and contempt, is legitimated, assumes reality and, 
finally, sole reality. While the earth sinks in the astronomical ex¬ 
periments and systems to a tiny point of light, the head and heart 
of man raise it to be the supreme centre; alone important, alone 
effective, alone self-evident and true — the navel of the universe. 

We can scarcely picture to ourselves the immense elation that 
was produced in men of the time by this new knowledge, which at 
first was only felt as a general dark inkling. The whole age was 
pervaded by a deep enthusiam and passion for life. When we con¬ 
templatively review general temperaments and temperatures 
dominant at the various cultural periods, their colouring and their 
atmosphere, we are usually reminded of certain times of day or 
types of weather. The closing eighteenth century, the period of our 
Classicists, gives the impression of a calm afternoon twilight, the 
best time to sit at the window and chat over coffee and pipe. We 
have already compared the incubation period to a polar night; we 
might equally have said that its effect is that of a starry yet bitter 
winter night, when everything is shadowy, transparent, unreal, 
like the pictures of a magic lantern. But the dawn of the sixteenth 
century was like a cool summer morning, with cocks crowing, the 
air humming, all nature perfumed with fragrant life. The world 
has slept its fill and is stretching itself, full of vigour, to meet the 
day’s work and greet the sun. A volcanic audacity, combined with 
a glorious and inquisitive thirst for knowledge, streamed through 
head and heart. Men searched for the fabled land of India and 
found a reality still more fabulous, a whole continent of things 
of which no fancy had ever dreamed. Men looked for the 

227 


7 

A ugustim 
mo 



Philosophers’ Stone, but found something far more valuable: the 
potato. Men busied themselves with the problem of the perpetuum 
mobile, but a greater secret was unveiled in the eternal movement 
of the heavens. Yet, for all these magnificent discoveries in the 
world outside, it was a still more notable discovery which a young 
Augustinian monk made in the inner world of man — worth more 
than gold, tobacco, and potatoes, or printing or gunpowder or the 
whole of astronomy, for he pointed the way to his brothers to find 
their path back to God and to win true Christian freedom. 



CHAPTER VI 


THE GERMAN RELIGION 

<c The one thing that is of interest in the 
Reformation is LutheiAs character: indeed, it 
was the one thing that really impressed the 
masses. All else is a muddle and confusion, 
from which we still suffer daily ” 

Goethe 

The meaning and end of all creative activity is to be found 
solely in the proof that good, meaning, or, in other words, God lies 
everywhere before us in the world. This, the highest, the only 
reality, is ever at hand, but for the most part invisible. Genius 
makes it visible — that is the function of genius. The genius is 
called, therefore, god-inspired, for the fact of “ God ” fills him so 
wholly that everywhere, again and again, he finds it and sees it 
and recognizes it. It is this recognition of God that is the peculiar 
faculty and gift of every great man. Every man bears within him 
his own God and his own devil. “ In thine own heart thy destiny 
doth lie ” may be hackneyed by excessive quotation but, rightly 
understood, it unfolds a deep and far-reaching truth. God does not 
rule the world outwardly by gravitation and chemical affinity, but 
inwardly in the heart of man: as is your soul, so will the destiny be 
of the world in which you live and do. 

What is obscure in an individual becomes clearer in a whole 
people. They make their own world and have to suffer it according 
as they have made it. There are gods of many kinds that man can 
pray to, and his choice amongst them will be decisive for him and 
his posterity. The savage dances round a log of wood and calls it 
god, and in very fact the world is for him no more than a dull and 
lifeless log. The Egyptians deified animals, the Nile, the sun, the 
whole of nature and, therefore, of necessity remained of a piece 
with nature, fruitful and vital, but dumb and identical — there 
are no Egyptian individuals. The Greeks, light-hearted specu¬ 
lators, having created a gallery of beautiful, idle, pleasure-loving. 


God (t 
the feof 


229 



The four 
components 
of the 
Reformation 


and deceitful men, called them gods, and through these gods found 
their ruin. The Indians, once deeply sure of the meaningless un¬ 
reality of this world, henceforth had faith only in Nothingness, 
and their faith became their truth — unaffected by the passage of 
history, their glorious land became and remains a vast noth¬ 
ingness. 

Christianity, we are accustomed to be told, brought all the 
peoples of western Europe into a common faith. But is it really so? 
Superficially, indeed, yes. But a deeper insight will show that ther e 
are national gods, national destinies, as there were of old. This is 
the real dividing line between peoples and not race or custom or 
outward custom, not politics or social structure. It is these, pre¬ 
cisely these things, that are common to the civilized world. Top- 
hats and boas, music and street-scavenging are alike in Greece and 
Ireland, in Portugal and Sweden, and ideas of agriculture and 
etiquette and parliamentary government too. But the god is every¬ 
where another god. 

True, they are all Christians; and therein lies the enormous 
power and vitality of Christianity, that it has a message for every 
time, that it has a form which can find a place within it for all 
thoughts and all feelings. Had it been something that could live 
itself out in a trifle of nineteen hundred years, Christianity could 
never have been a world religion at all. What common basis is 
there for Tertullian’s “ Credo quia absurdum ” and the almost 
mathematical rationalism of Calvin? For the doctrine of the 
Satanists and the almost familiar terms on which the Quakers live 
with their God? Was it only a matter of chance — related perhaps 
to the dictatorial temper of Louis XIV and Cromwell—that 
France was restored to Papistry while England held to the Refor¬ 
mation? The God for France, of France, was absolutist; the God 
for England, of England, Puritan. 

In an earlier chapter it was stated that, fundamentally, the 
only Renaissance was the Italian, and that the Renaissance in 
other countries justified the name only in an unreal and impure 
sense. It is equally justifiable to say that the Reformation was in 
its essence and being a German phenomenon, and all other 
Reformations — English, French, Scandinavian, Hungarian, 
Polish — were but duplicates or caricatures. “The German,” 
Moritz Heimann acutely observes in one of his essays, “ does 


230 



not regard the world of ideas, as other nations do, as a banner. 
He takes it several degrees more literally, and the real world, by 
the same token, more casually.” This gives with precision the 
psychological attitude which distinguished the German people 
during the whole Reformation period; it absorbed the war-cries 
which it received from its religious leaders with a literalness 
that developed into obstinacy and misunderstanding, even to re¬ 
versals of the original tendency; at the same time, paradoxically, 
in translating these new norms into political reality it displayed 
a remissness that astounds us. In short, it took the spiritual 
Reformation too seriously, the practical too lightly, and the result, 
to its own great harm, was that it fell between the two stools of 
the other great movements of the time which had the greatest his¬ 
torical influence — namely, Anglo-Saxon Calvinism, whose ex¬ 
traordinary energy and logical quality brought about a vast 
revolution of economic, political, and social practice, and Ro¬ 
manic Jesuitism, which with an equally wonderful force of soul 
and rigour of spirit called into being a moral and intellectual re¬ 
birth. The German, at that stage of his development, was not 
mature enough for action which would be practically successful 
and, therefore, historically effective. Dreamer of dreams, preg¬ 
nant with the future, but incoherent and irresolute, he only had 
the power to give a vast new stimulus of which others have reaped 
the fruit. All the stirring thoughts which give the Reformation age 
its stamp were born on German soil, all worked themselves out in 
other lands. 

So far from being a unitary movement, the German Reforma¬ 
tion was the resultant of at least four components. The first — 
often enough regarded as the only one — was religious, but this 
was linked from the outset with a second of equal vigour, which 
was national. Rome was no longer to control, and the Church was 
to be, not “ welsck,” but German. A foreign sovereign — for in his 
political significance the ruler of the Papal States was such—was 
no longer to receive a great part of German tax-revenues. And so 
appears the third component, the economic, which had a very 
wide extension, for it was the common stream of all the tendencies 
which sought to bring about trenchant changes in the social struc¬ 
ture on the model of the primitive Church. Finally, there was the 
fourth influence, the ferment in scientific circles, Humanism and 


231 



the birth of scholarship — this last the weakest component, but all 
the same not to be underestimated, since it was this which pro¬ 
vided the method, the material, the intellectual weapons for the 
whole struggle. There was, however, a common focus and crucible 
of all these different elements in the appeal to the Gospel. There 
was nothing in the Bible about monasteries and monks, bishops 
and prelates, masses and pilgrimages, confession and absolu¬ 
tion — here the religious aspect found foothold. Nothing about a 
supreme shepherd in Rome — here the national movement stood 
to fight. Nothing about fish- and game-preserves, tithes and 
feudal service — here the social reform found its justification. And 
nothing at all of the dogmas which the Church during the thou¬ 
sand years of its activity had created — here the philologists and 
historians drove their mines. 

The N f ht - The presentiment, whether obscure or clear, conscious or un- 
Wittenberg COHSClOUS, 01 3 gTG&t revolution 3,11 d tr 3 nsv 3 lu 3 tion of values 

roused in almost all parts of the nation a vast, and predominantly 
a joyous, enthusiasm. Numerous writings of the time express the 
feeling of “ the dawn,” best of all Hans Sachs’s famous poem 
“ The Wittenberg Nightingale ”: 

Awake, awake! The day is near, 

And in the woods a song I hear. 

It is the glorious nightingale, 

Her music rings on hill and dale. 

The night falls in to Occident, 

The day springs up in Orient. 

The dawn comes on and sets alight 
The gloomy clouds of parting night, 

And soon thereout the sun will shine 
And moon depart in pale decline. 

In a drama of the same name Strindberg completes the famous 
words of Ulrich von Hutten: “ The spirits wake, there is a joy of 
living,. with the cry: “ Ah! something new draws near.” 

This something new was Martin Luther. 

There is probably no personality in history of whom such con¬ 
flicting opinions have been and still are held, as the Antipope of 
Wittenberg. There are Catholics who have rendered enthusiastic 
praise and there are Protestants who have regarded him with a 

232 



fierce abhorrence; atheists have called him a spiritual saviour, and 
the pious have called him a corrupter of religion. To some he is 
“ the German Catiline,” to others the greatest of humanity’s bene¬ 
factors. Goethe saw in him a highly significant genius, Nietzsche 
a peasant bounded by the limits of his clogs. Schiller called him a 
warrior in the battle for the freedom of thought. Frederick the 
Great a raving monk and literary barbarian. Attempts have been 
made to prove him a glutton, a drunkard, a liar, a forger, a blas¬ 
phemer, a syphilitic, a paranoiac, a suicide; and German artists 
have painted him with a halo. 

Many hostile critics have been at pains to deny him even all 
creative originality and to show that all the ideas he supported 
had been put forward before his time, and that there had been 
many “ reformers before the Reformation,” more important far 
than he. And indeed it is obvious that the currents from which the 
Reformation flowed were far older than Luther. We have already 
drawn attention in chapter iii to some of the many expressions of 
anti-clerical feeling with which the fifteenth century teems; nor 
could it be otherwise, since so huge an eruption as that which 
burst forth around Luther must have been brooding long and deep 
before it could discharge with such elemental violence. Towards 
the end of the century the anti-priestly feeling more and more 
gathered power. In Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools, published in 
1494 , we find, amongst countless others, the following lines: 

For priests there’s little reverence; 

Their worth is reckoned but in pence. 

Many a fine young clerk today 
Knows no more than a donkey may, 

And shepherds of men’s souls one sees 
That tend the flock but for the fleece. 

And in the almost contemporary satirical poem, written in collo¬ 
quial German, Reinke de Vos, already mentioned, occur these 
remarks about Rome: 

Of law in Rome they boast and cant, 

But money’s what they really want. 

No case so crooked, so obscure. 

That gold a verdict can’t secure. 


Reforn 

before 

Reforms 


m 



He wins who bribes — so much the worse 

For the poor fool with empty purse. 

And the whole thing is summed up in the famous doggerel: 

So blind lead other blind today 

And both from God must surely stray. 

Furthermore, we have already heard how “ Enlightenment,” the 
habit of satirizing the Catholic Church, propagated and raised to 
the height of fashion by the Humanists, set the general tone of all 
cultured circles in Italy and even of the Pope’s own immediate 
entourage. In the year before the Theses of Wittenberg Pietro 
Pomponazzi, a famous philosopher, produced a small work on the 
immortality of the soul wherein it was taught that the founders of 
religions had invented immortality for the benefit of the masses, 
who would only practise virtue if there were rewards or punish¬ 
ments of some sort — as a nurse invents a tale to induce good be¬ 
haviour in a child, or a doctor deceives his patients for their own 
benefit. In another work Pomponazzi declares the efficiency of 
relics to be imaginary and says the same results would follow if 
the bones were a dog’s; and the argument that belief in immortal¬ 
ity is necessary because otherwise religion would be a deception he 
answers with the remark that such is actually the case: for, there 
being three codes (Mosaic, Christian, and Mohammedan), either 
all three are false, in which case the whole world is deceived; or 
two are false, and then the majority are. These and suchlike views 
were tolerated by the Curia, for anything might be spoken or 
written if only it war “ salva fide ”— that is, without affecting 
external subjection to the Church. 

Wyclif too, as we have already remarked, anticipated the 
whole of the Reformation, and in some material points even went 
beyond it: for among his doctrines are the following: images 
should not be adored nor relics held holy; the pope is not the suc¬ 
cessor of Peter, and not he, but God alone, is the forgiver of sins; 
the blessing of bishops is worthless; priests should be allowed to 
marry; the bread and wine at the Holy Communion do not change 
into the real body of Christ, for true Christians receive the body 
of Christ daily by their faith; prayer should not be offered to the 
Virgin; prayer may be offered elsewhere besides churches. Johann 



Wessel (1419-89) maintained that the unity of the Church de¬ 
pended on tiie community of the faithful with Christ, their 
heavenly supreme I lead, and not on their subordination to a vis¬ 
ible ruler; on earth most Popes had been caught in the net of error, 
and even Councils were not infallible. He rejected auricular con¬ 
fession, absolution, and “ satisfactio opens,” or justification by 
works, and pictured purgatory as a purificatory process of a wholly 
spiritual kind, upon which the pope could have no influence. “ If 
the pope could decide according to his own will, he would not be 
the vicar of Christ, but. Christ would be his vicar, for the judgment 
of Christ would depend on his will.” In fact, as he says himself in 
pregnant words, he believes with the Church, not in the Church. 
The Erfurt, theological professor Johann von Wesel (d. 1480) went 
even further, objecting even to the Communion and to the extreme 
unction, and maintaining that the consecrated oil was worth no 
more than that in which cakes were baked; fasting he thought su¬ 
perfluous, and a device introduced by Peter that he might have a 
better sale for his fish; finally, he called the pope an “ empurpled 
ape.” J'irasmus of Rotterdam, too, the glory of the century, scorned 
the adoration of saints, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the 
entire dogmatics of the Schoolmen, whose subtleties, he main¬ 
tained, would be unintelligible to Christ and all His disciples. The 
sacraments, in his view, were ceremonies of neutral value, the 
Bible in many places forged and in parts contradictory and unin¬ 
telligible; nor could the divinity of Christ and the Trinity be 
proved from it. “ But the Church has no more deadly enemies than 
the popes, for by their evil life they slay Christ a second time.” 

But the case of Erasmus, more than any other, discloses the 
enormous difference between Luther and his predecessors, who 
merely taught the Reformation, whereas Luther lived it. His 
uniqueness and originality lay in the boiling blood he infused into 
all these doctrines. Erasmus was beyond doubt the more pictur¬ 
esque, the broader and keener mind, the most logical, the more 
universal, and even the bolder thinker; but he was no more than 
a thinker. It never entered his head to give practical evidence of 
a single one of his ideas, and though he was of a far more radical 
and reforming temper than most of the reformers, he never ap¬ 
peared in person as the defender of the new movement, but fear¬ 
fully denied it on every occasion. He repeated, over and over 


Words m 
Dee 


235 



again, in his letters that he hardly knew the work of Luther at 
all — which is certainly the lie of a timid soul — and when his old 
friend Hutten came to his house in Basel, scorned and in poverty, 
to beg for protection, he brutally showed him the door. He 
trembled, we are told, at the word “ death.” This in itself would 
have been perfectly understandable in a man so wholly intellec¬ 
tual. But he was tainted, too, with far more ignoble fears for his 
wealth and influence; he trembled for the benefices and presents 
that he owed to the Church, and for his reputation among the 
clerical elite. It was not without truth that his enemies accused 
him of allowing himself to be lured like a dog by a piece of bread. 
Therefore history passes him by and gives the title of the great 
renovator and benefactor of humanity, not to him, but to the nar¬ 
row and obstinate peasant’s son. For the rank of men depends in 
general not on their thinking, but on their doing. Seneca was a 
better philosopher than Paul, yet we set the latter on an infinitely 
higher plane. The poor Seneca argued and declaimed with vigour 
and effect about love of humanity and Stoic self-sufficiency, but 
that was only one Seneca, the philosophic side of the man. The 
other was the Seneca of the world, the unscrupulous financier and 
millionaire, the subservient companion of Nero and his iniquities. 

Luther may not have given much that was “ new.” But then, 
again, novelty is not the task of the great man on earth: in spirit¬ 
ual matters it is not the “ what ” that counts, but the “ how.” 
Genius drives nails home, and that, no more and no less, is its 
divine mission. Genius is no novelty-monger. It says things, at 
bottom, that everyone might say, but it says them more concisely 
and better, more deeply and passionately, than anyone else could 
have said them. It reproduces an idea of the time which is already 
dumb and asleep in the minds of many or all — but it repeats it 
with so overwhelming a power and so disarming a simplicity that 
it becomes for the first time real common property. 

Certainly, “ideas,” great spiritual currents, are always the 
decisive factor in the transformation and progress of history; but 
always, too — we see it throughout the course of our experience — 
they link themselves to great personalities. World-history is made 
by individual towering men, in whom the Zeitgeist is so distilled 
and concentrated that it is made vivid, fruitful, and effective for 
every man. The idea is ever the primary, but it is only through 

236 



special individuals that it acquires life and reality. Luther did not 
invent the Reformation in the sense, for instance, that Auer in¬ 
vented the incandescent lamp or Morse the telegraph-key, but 
being filled, as no other was filled, with the new light of the age, 
he could be the fiist to make it visible to the world. jHis tongue 
became the tongue of Ins century, and it spoke the creative word 
which is ever the beginning. YVe shall come across men more 
distinguished, of richer and more diverse qualities, of freer and 
more expansive soul, but none who more fully expressed the urge 
of his time and its deepest wants, who could more simply and 
clearly, more emphatically and lucidly, declare in the name of his 
contemporaries what, is and what must be. And it was for this that 


Adolf Harnack, the great, theologian of our day, closed his address 
on the fourth centenary of Luther’s birth with the words: “ After 


the long darkness the way to the goal was made clear to us by this 

man, of whom we may venture to say that he was himself the 
Reformation.” 


To understand Luther — which is a harder task for the 
twentieth century than is generally assumed — the fundamental 
need is to realize that he was very definitely a man of the transi¬ 
tion, in whom old and new intermingled in a rare and strange 
fashion. Now, in fact, it is always such an alloy of old and new that 
is the material from which the great renovators, the reformers and 
regenerators of every kind, are created, and we shall meet the type 
over and over again. Nor are the reasons for this far to seek; it is 
only because the old still lives in the hearts of these revolution¬ 
aries with sufficient vigour that it can beget the fiery creative 
hatred which incites them and enables them to devote their whole 


being to fighting and eliminating this old. If we are to battle 
against something with deepest passion, we must first be moved 
to our depths by it, and for that to happen we must ourselves be it. 
Augustine could become one of the Fathers of the Church only 
because he had been a Manicluean; only the old aristocrat Mira- 
beau could get the French Revolution started, and none but the 
son of a minister, like Nietzsche, could become an immoralist and 
antichristian. Marx and Lassalle were the founders of socialism, 
but only because they had been born and educated in a thoroughly 
bourgeois atmosphere. Only a Catholic priest could break from 
the core of Catholicism. If we would become Paul, we must have 


The dual 
aspect of 
Luther 


217 



The last 
of the 
monks 


been Saul and indeed must retain, all our lives, some part of what 
Saul was: the unceasing battle against oneself and one’s own past 
is the only thing that gives a man the power to fight for the 
future. 

In the fundamentals of his character Luther was still purely 
mediaeval. His figure imposes itself on us with its unity, its almost 
hieratic fixity and rigour — like the hard and harsh profile of a 
Gothic statue. There was a genius of dogmatic directness, of an 
orderly straightforwardness, in all his willing: his thinking was 
instinctive, pointed by emotions, anchored in feeling, working 
more or less on fixed lines. He was spared the curse — and bless¬ 
ing — of modern men, that they can see all the sides of a question 
with, so to say, the facet-eyes of insects. Yet these very times of his 
were marked by the emergence of complicated, diversified, many- 
coloured personalities; he was the contemporary of a diabolical 
ironist like Rabelais and of all the great figures of the Italian 
Renaissance. But even his fellow-countrymen included a diplo¬ 
mat and elastic-souled man of the world like the Elector Maurice 
of Saxony, a psychologist as subtle and variegated as Erasmus, a 
fluctuant, paradoxical creature like Doctor Paracelsus. But in 
Luther’s character there were no shades or transitions; the con¬ 
trasts lay frankly opposed to each other as we have seen them in 
mediaeval humanity, with all the colours harsh, alternating 
abruptly, without blending or gradation — darkest doubt over 
against brightest confidence, radiance of kindness side by side 
with storm of wrath, gentleness with fiercest vigour. His action, 
moreover, was characterized by an elemental, unreflecting in¬ 
stinctiveness wholly contrary to the new age, and the rationalism 
which we have set down as the great theme of the time had no 
effect upon him. He abominated reason and all her works as 
heartily as any Schoolman, and called her the Devil’s handmaid; 
he rejected the new astronomy because it was not in harmony with 
the Bible, and the great geographical discoveries of his lifetime 
passed by him unnoticed. Nor did he think in “ social ” terms, as 
his attitude in the Peasants’ War showed, but was rather a fanatic 
for order, always on the side of the “ authorities ”; a supporter, in 
all social and political questions, of mediaeval rigidity. 

Nor does his life display anything of the systematic orderliness 
and clarity which mark our modern intellectual attitude. His 

-22 ft 



driving force was the unconscious; without having willed it, he 
found himself the hero of his time; without having sought for it, 
he spoke the word which found a home on every lip; he moved 
with the certainty of a sleep-walker on the way which had brought 
so many others to ruin. In the midst of an age that was disinte¬ 
grated, fumbling, and fermenting, he was a whole man, a frag¬ 
ment of unfissured mediaeval force and self-sufficiency. His gaze 
looked into the far future, while his feet were planted firmly on a 
well-worn path. And this is what made him the leader that he was, 
and enabled him to stand like a second Moses at the parting of 
the ages, dividing with his staff the waters of the old and the new. 
He was, in a word, the last great monk of Europe, just as Winckel- 
mann in the age of a dying Classicism was the last of the Human¬ 
ists, or Bismarck in the years of victorious Liberalism the last 
great Junker. 

On the other hand, Luther’s consciousness perceived spirit¬ 
ual relationships which were only to be fully developed and 
realized in the course of centuries. The modernness of Luther’s 
thought came from three main influences. The first is his indi¬ 
vidualism. By making religion a matter of inner experience he 
accomplished in the highest sphere of the human soul what 
Italian artists had done in the sphere of fantasy. Luther’s belief 
that each soul must create its own God afresh out of its innermost 
being involves the final and deepest emancipation of personality. 
The second, connected with this, was a democratic motive; by 
his declaration that every one of the faithful was truly of clerical 
status, and every member of the Church a priest, Luther destroyed 
the representative system of the Middle Ages, which allowed the 
laity access to Christ only through the special mediation of the 
deputies of Christ and the hierarchy of his servants; and he thus 
introduced into Church life the same equalitarian principle which 
the French Revolution afterwards brought into political life. 
Thirdly, by his declaration that the whole of our ordinary life was 
a divine service, he introduced into religion a new worldly prin¬ 
ciple. Once admit that it was possible, everywhere and at all times, 
in every class and every craft, every profession or station, to find 
favour with God, and we have a sort of consecration of work: an 
achievement in its immeasurable effects, which we shall have to 
discuss later in fuller detail. 


n e>n 



Haeckel, as is well known, laid it down as a fundamental law 
of biology that ontogeny, the history of the embryo, is a com¬ 
pressed recapitulation of phylogeny; in other words, the individual 
reproduces in the womb, in a brief form, the whole series of animal 
ancestors from the primal cell to his own species. In the same way 
Luther passed through the whole development of the Church; 
Church history being the phylogenetic side, and his personal his¬ 
tory up to the great revolt the ontogenetic. He began with the 
compact faith of the Middle Ages in the efficacy of the sacraments 
and of the saints. At Erfurt he gave himself whole-heartedly to 
the doctrines of strictest Scholasticism; in the Augustinian mon¬ 
astery he sought salvation, with fervour bordering on self-anni¬ 
hilation, in the asceticism of the cloister, in prayer, watching, 
fasting, and endurance; in Wittenberg he devoted himself with 
glowing passion to the teachings of mysticism; in Rome he expe¬ 
rienced the influence of the violent anti-clerical current, which had 
been unsettling the world for generations without being, as yet, 
in the least anti-papist; and it was only in the fullness of his age 
that he consummated the breach with the Papacy and the idea 
of the Church as sole dispenser of spiritual happiness. 

The great crisis came during his monastic period, just at that 
critical time of life when abnormally gifted men are specially 
liable to fall into deep doubt of themselves and the justification of 
their being. Carlyle, who bears some resemblance to Luther, has 
given a vivid picture of this condition in his Sartor Resartus, a 
kind of autobiography. In that book the hero says of himself: “ It 
seemed as if all things in the Heavens above and the Earth be¬ 
neath would hurt me; as if the Heavens and the Earth were but 
boundless jaws of a devouring monster, wherein I, palpitating, 
waited to be devoured.” But as he was one day wandering rest¬ 
lessly through the streets, tortured by his doubts, a sudden light 
came to him, and from it he dated his spiritual new-birth. “ All at 
once, there rose a Thought in me, and I asked myself: ‘ What 
art thou afraid of? Wherefore, like a coward, dost thou forever 
pip and whimper, and go cowering and trembling? Despicable 
biped! what is the sum-total of the worst that lies before thee ? 
Death? Well, Death; and say the pangs of Tophet, too, and all 
that the Devil and Man may, will, or can do against thee! Hast 
thou not a heart; canst thou not suffer whatsoever it be; and as 



a Child of Freedom, though outcast, trample Tophet itself under 
thy feet, while it consumes thee ? Let it come, then; I will meet it 
and defy it! ’ And as I so thought, there rushed like a stream of 
fire over my whole soul; and I shook 'base Fear away from me 
for ever. I was strong, of unknown strength; a spirit, almost a god. 
Ever from that time, the temper of my misery was changed.” 

It is this condition of infinite despair and nihilistic resignation 
that marks the turning-point in the life of men of the highest 
spiritual capacity. It is the transition-time at which the spirit that 
is coming to birth cannot any longer remain purely receptive, but 
yet has not found the clear guiding lines of its future productivity. 
The vision is sharpened for the contradictions, the incomplete¬ 
ness and absurdity of many things and relations, but has as yet 
nothing to balance the pessimism and enhanced irritability which 
is the precondition of all work of genius; no clear and certain con¬ 
sciousness of its mission. It is seen to be impossible to remain 
in statu pupil lari within the limits of the old convention, but the 
possibility of effectively creating and teaching a new world has 
not yet dawned. Thus the terrified glance sees only the negatives; 
this is the stage of absolute self-negation, of the mood of suicide. 
Luther, if anyone, deserves the title of genius, for he alone of all 
the successful reformers of his time had built for himself the new 
world out of daemonic struggles within himself. 

The doubt which oppressed Luther and almost overwhelmed 
him was founded on his fear of God and His law. It was the same 


torturing thought which had given Paul no peace in his Pharisee 
days: How is it possible to escape the wrath of God, how satisfy 
His zeal and His hard, almost unfulfillable, commands ? It was, we 
perceive, the Jewish God that thus terrified Luther. Once again a 
man of real greatness, who could tolerate no compromise and no 
ambiguities, was cast into confusion by the paradox which runs 
through the whole of Christianity, the vast cleft which fifty gen¬ 
erations had vainly called on their wit, their knowledge, and their 
faith to repair, attempting unceasingly to identify with the real 
God the God whom the Jews imagined as a purely national figure, 
concerned only with the interests of his own people, a hard auto¬ 
crat and a pitiless persecutor of all rivals. It was something similar 
that the Stoics had attempted in laying down that God was only 
a spiritualized Zeus. Both doctrines are equally blasphemous. The 


Jeh 

indel 


*> A T 



Luthers 

Damascus 


Luther’s 

heroic 

‘period, 


Marcionites, the most lucid and incisive thinkers among the early 
Christians, maintained quite logically that there were two Gods, 
the Demiurge, who had created the world — by the world they 
understood the Jews and therefore pictured the Creator as evil 
— and the “ Highest God,” who had sent His Son to redeem the 
world. They felt, quite rightly, that if they could not bring them¬ 
selves to deny the god of the Jews as completely as any other 
national God, the only logical alternative was the acceptance of a 
dual divinity, after the Persian fashion, in which the Jewish God 
naturally became the spirit of darkness; but, as such a solution 
was nothing but a veiled relapse into paganism, the Church natur¬ 
ally found it unacceptable. The Marcionites, as well as others, 
had, moreover, suggested the total rejection of the Old Testa¬ 
ment — and they were not alone in this — yet there also they failed, 
for Jehovah, a true Jew as ever, refused to be thrown out. Hence, 
even up to the present day, the purest doctrine that has ever been or 
ever will be put before the world was corrupted and confused by the 
spectre of a fierce and jealous Bedouin chieftain. 

Luther, too, had his Damascus; but the Saviour’s words were 
not now: “ Why persecutest thou Me ? ” but “ Why thinkest thou 
I persecute thee? My Father is not Jehovah.” He saw that the 
Christian God was not a “just” God, but a God of mercy, and 
that the meaning of the evangel was not the Law, but Grace. 

It shakes us to the core to see how Luther at the time of this 
inner struggle was actually filled by a sort of hatred against God: 
there were moments in his life when his will strained to banish 
God from the world. The fact is that what we would love with 
our whole heart we must some time have hated passionately, or at 
least have striven for both eagerly and hopelessly, and piety is cer¬ 
tainly among the first things of which we can say that it must be 
conquered before it can be possessed. Fundamentally Luther’s 
battle of faith was against the comfortable, cheap, cud-chewing 
complacency of God-saturated people, against the deep immoral¬ 
ity that lies at the core of the unreflecting self-satisfaction and the 
taken-for-granted inertia of average religiousness. 

The youth of Luther is truly dramatic in character; his tak¬ 
ing of the vow amid lightning and thunder, his nailing-up of the 
Theses, his disputation at Leipzig, his burning of the papal ban, 
his defence at the Diet of Worms. These are scenes of a cosmic 


St A St 



vastness and impressiveness, each of which sums up its own 
circumstances in powerful strokes, pregnant and unforgettable 
brush-strokes. And how dramatic, too, in its own way was Lu¬ 
ther’s unerring instinct in attacking just that abuse of the Catholic 
Church which was not merely the most irritating and absurd, 
but the most obvious and startling — the traffic in absolutions! 
In the course of time a regular stock-exchange for remission of 
sins had developed, in which everything had its price: perjury, 
rape, murder, false witness, fornication practised in church; sod¬ 
omy was rated in Tetzel’s instructions at twelve ducats, sacri¬ 
legious robbery at nine, witchcraft at six, parricide (a bargain!) 
at four. It was even possible, if not in theory, certainly in prac¬ 
tice, to pay in advance for certain sins and hold, as it were, a 
deposit-account of absolutions; and the whole business was 
farmed out to big banking-houses and merchant firms who worked 
with the most modern methods of advertisement and salesman¬ 
ship ; in a lottery at Bergen-op-Zoom, for instance, the “ valuable 
prizes ” to be won included absolutions. The degradation and 
commercialization of religion could not possibly go further than 
this, and even the meanest intelligence could see that these usages 
had nothing to do with Christianity, or rather that they were an 
official and cynical denial and contempt of it. 

The climax of Luther’s work as a publicist came in 1520, when 
he published three small but decisively significant works: To 
the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Of the Babylonish 
Captivity of the Church, and Of the Freedom, of the Christian, 
all of which have a force and depth, a compactness and richness, 
a lucidity and orderliness, such as he never achieved again. He 
propounds with resistless oratory his doctrines that every Chris¬ 
tian is a true priest; that the pope is not at all the ruler of the 
world (for had not Christ said before Pilate: “My kingdom is 
not of this world”?); that the only valid sacraments are those 
instituted by Christ himself — namely, baptism, repentance, and 
Holy Communion; that the other added sacraments and the papal 
claims to universal dominion had brought the Church into sub¬ 
jection to a foreign and hostile power like that over the Jews in 
Babylon; that a Christian is a wholly free, serviceable labourer 
in all things and servant of all, the first through his faith, the 
second through his humility. A true Christian life is to be found 



Luthers 

Pofe 


only where true faith is active by love, where a task is performed 
with joy in freest bondage, where one serves another voluntarily 
and for naught. “ Who can conceive the riches and the glory of a 
Christian life which has all things and can do all things, yet has 
need of nothing, that is lord over sin and death and hell, and yet 
the ready and useful servant of all! ” Here Luther is very near 
to the mystics who have been the teachers of his youth, and this 
it was that enabled him to solve the great problem of the relation 
of faith and works (to which we shall return) with such utter 
clarity and simplicity. Later, embittered 'by petty annoyances and 
rancour, hardened by overwork, sectarian polemics, and above 
all by fears (unworthy of a great genius) of being misunderstood, 
he fell back from this supreme level. 

Now, this movement did not start from learned Paris or 
magnificent Rome or world-ruling Madrid, but from the poor and 
newly founded University of Wittenberg: The explanation of this 
lies in the strange fact that it is almost always at the circumfer¬ 
ence that the new creative forces are brought to birth and momen¬ 
tous spiritual revolutions have their beginning. Christianity was 
born in a despised minor province of the Roman world-empire, 
the Mosaic monotheism saw the light far from the capital cities 
of the East, and Mohammedanism began its career of conquest in 
the Arabian desert. It was of equal necessity that Luther should 
be a child of the periphery in the social sense as well as the 
geographical and should rise from a low class, from darkness and 
nothingness. Such is always the case when God reveals him self 
in a man, whether powerfully or more weakly, in splendour or in 
softer light, for the whole world or for a small community. The 
divine wanders on the earth ever in the guise of a servant. 

It has been said above that Luther was in many ways a thor¬ 
ough mediaeval still. Thus, he was in the highest degree, almost 
blindly, a believer in authority. He denied the pope, but, as even 
his contemporary Sebastian Franck saw, “ the world demands 
and must have a pope, whom all would believe and serve, even 
if he has to be stolen or dug out of the earth; and if every day 
robbed it of one, it would straightway look for another.” Luther’s 
pope was the Bible, which was to him literally true, word for 
word, without the slightest modification or limitation. He carried 
the Old Testament about with him everywhere, it has been re- 



marked, like some useless vestigial organ which belongs to an 
earlier stage of development and whose function has long been 
lost. Moreover, he interpreted the “ Word ” by his own often mis¬ 
taken and limited explanation. This narrow literalness of his finds 
a classic example in the famous debate about the Last Supper at 
the religious discussion at Marburg. When the discussion came 
to the words of institution: “tovt 6 khn to SQfj.a fiov, tovt 6 efoi to 
alfia fiov” Zwingli explained them as being symbolical, the eSn 
not expressing any identity, but being translatable as “ signified” 

During the discussion Luther incessantly tapped on the table in 
his indignation and repeatedly muttered: “ est, est ” It was the 
outer grammatical form which was alone decisive for him. 

And yet even in this rigid superstition of words we may de- Tr item ft 

tect the modern stamp that equally characterizes Luther. For the Gated 
hitherto highest authority, the pope, who was a living authority of Gothic * 
flesh and blood, he substitutes the dead authority of the writing, 
which consists of printer’s ink and paper. In place of the false infal¬ 
libility of a fallible human being we have false dogma in a scientific 
and utterly inhuman form. Theology gives way to philology—in 
the end to micrology — and for the Holy Church we have of all 
things the unholiest, the school. In the unconsciously maturing 
fact that the centre of faith was no longer the life and suffering of 
the Saviour, but the record thereof contained in a book, is signal¬ 
ized the victory of the new type of man, who writes, prints, reads — 
and is scientific. It is the herald of a literary age. In the same way, 
according to Protestant interpretation, the sacraments do not work 
by some secret magic, but only by the word. And so Gutenberg hu¬ 
manity triumphs over Gothic. Thenceforward it is a straight line to 
the civilization and religion of pure reason, to the age of Enlighten¬ 
ment. Luther was neither an incarnation of, nor even a prophet of, 
these inevitable consequences, but the Church he established ful¬ 
filled them. His own activity and work are unintelligible without 
the printing-press. He is the first great publicist of Germany, and 
his ninety-five Theses are the first “ late extra ” of the history of 
the world. 

Harnack says somewhere in his History of Dogma that Luther 
behaved in the Church like a young child in his home; and this 
remark almost completely covers both the strength and the weak¬ 
ness of the reformer. His work displays the inco-ordination and 



clumsiness of a child, its limitations and manner of thought, but 
at the same time its purity and intuitiveness, its enthusiasm and 
its irresistibility. Because he was a child he was enabled to give 
his people a religion, but because he was a child he was unable to 
build a religious structure. Because the driving force in him was 
a childlike impulsiveness and elasticity and wilfulness, his work 
lacked all continuity and logic. Later he relapsed in many points, 
becoming unfaithful to himself and to true Protestantism. Protes¬ 
tantism is clear and courageous protest against every forced be¬ 
lief, formula, and lip-service, a return to the purity of the early 
gospel doctrine and the essential facts of Christianity; it is the 
rejection of all mediators that would interpose between God and 
the believer, it is the piety and discipleship of Christ, constituting 
the true and only priesthood. But even in his own lifetime, and 
not without his own co-operation, a great deal of what it had been 
his historical mission to fight had come back again: a new sys¬ 
tem of clerical lust for power and of dull numbing by empty 
forms began to spread abroad, a new fagade-Christianity received 
homage, a new dialectic, far surpassing the Catholic in hair¬ 
splitting and absurdity, came in for the second time and — with 
far more ignoble apparatus — made the Gospel dark. For the 
second time humanity was divided into first- and second-class 
Christians: but while the Catholic priest derived his superiority 
from a transcendent source, the hegemony of the Protestant pas¬ 
tor and theologian was based on the far weaker and more fragile 
claim that he was superior to the laity in true scientific under¬ 
standing of the Bible. 

And what understanding could Luther or his followers have 
of the real meaning of the phenomenon of the Saviour? The ap¬ 
pearance of Christ in his environment is wholly strange to, and 
almost incomprehensible by, the modern (and especially to the 
European) feeling. It is a magic radiance, having the enchanted 
glow of opal, in which endless brown wastes, fata morgana, and 
the quivering stillness of noon are reflected. It is a life-form to the 
echo of which our imagination is almost insensitive. More, it is 
the undoing of that form itself. All the glittering yet almost 
voiceless variety, the vast, dignified simplicity and unambiguous¬ 
ness of the East are in early Christendom; and with it an almost 
hysterical sympathy with the heart-beat of every creature, a de- 

246 



nial of individualness of such unqualified clarity as could become 
the ruling passion only in the soul of a very late humanity. An 
extremely primitive and yet immemoriably old Culture speaks to 
us out of the Gospels — the simplicity of natural man combined 
with the wisdom of the ages. A Luther may be able to clear the 
Christian faith of the surface-coating produced by centuries of bar¬ 
baric misunderstandings, concentrate it, simplify it, so that it is 
easier to survey and grasp by the reason; but the infinite tenderness 
and delicacy, the supersensitiveness, of such a spiritual condition 
is inaccessible to a healthy German peasant. An honest Saxon the¬ 
ologian could not react to the sparkling colour and exotic variety 
of this world of imagination; nor could the child of a dawning 
newspaper age recapture the fathomless prime-wisdom of a world 
of belief for Which this life is a sojourn, and the infinite is self- 
evidently home. 

So, too, with Luther’s translation of the Bible, an achievement 
which may be regarded, according to the standpoint from which 
we approach it, as a failure or as a masterpiece. Very little of the 
scent and local colour and setting of the Biblical world, or even 
of the feelings and thoughts of the authors, has been salvaged in 
it, but on the other hand Luther did succeed with his very de¬ 
cidedly Germanized Bible in writing the most German book in 
German literature. Hence the exaggerated claim has often been 
set up that he was the creator of modern German, and no less an au¬ 
thority than Jacob Grimm agrees with that judgment: “ Luther’s 
language, by reason of its wonderful purity and its enormous 
influence, may be regarded as the kernel and foundation of the 
New High German idiom.” Now, we should certainly not forget 
that Luther, as he himself admitted, employed the “ language of 
the Saxon Chancellery,” a sort of common idiom meant to hold 
a balance between the language of central and south Germany, 
which originated in the court of the Luxemburg kings in Prague 
about 1350, and thence spread to the other German courts. Two 
points should, however, be noted: firstly, that in the time of 
Luther there really was no common tongue among the people, 
but only innumerable dialects, and that it was only because of 
the amazing circulation and influence of his works, above all of 
his Bible, that this common language gradually penetrated into all 
circles and was adopted as the universal written German; and, 


Luthe 

creator 

lang\ 


1 


A Pf 



secondly, that this pooled Saxon was a dry, heavy-footed, and 
jejune office-language, and that Luther moulded it into an instru¬ 
ment for the expression of the highest, deepest, most powerful and 
delicate feelings and forced it into use for every conceivable ex¬ 
perience. Out of the material at his disposal he created the very 
reverse of a protocol-language. He tells us in his Table-talk how 
he questioned the mother in her home, the children in the street, 
and the common man in the market-place, and noted how they 
answered him; and by such means, thanks to his sensibility and 
an imitative power nearly related to the actor’s, he brought off 
the tour de force of expressing both the most subtle and learned 
ideas and also the simplest and most ordinary things in a language 
that is thoroughly natural, vivid, intelligible, and effective. We 
meet here yet another indication of that peculiar dramatic gift 
that dwelt in Luther. It finds utterance also in his polemic and 
doctrinal works, which, assuming a fictitious opponent, have an 
underlying character of dialogue that reminds us of Lessing. Thus 
it is no exaggeration to say that but for Luther Germany would 
today be a bilingual nation, half Low and half High German. 

Luther and His musical ability, too, which was considerable, echoes in his 
the arts style, and he excels especially in working up to the furioso climax. 
He composed the tunes for several of his own hymns, played the 
lute and the flute, understood and appreciated polyphony, and in¬ 
tensely admired the Dutch contrapuntalists. He made the Ger¬ 
man hymn into a basic element of the Protestant service, and his 
wish was that the schools should assiduously practise it. On every 
occasion he praised “ Musica” “the glorious, beautiful gift of 
God, sister of theology,” with an enthusiastic gratitude. 

But immediately we turn to the other arts, we are struck by the 
great limitations of this great man. Even to poetry his attitude 
was unsure. Of all the kinds of poetry he gave first place to the 
didactic fable because it was the most useful for the understand¬ 
ing of ordinary life — a banausic attitude, which, however, was 
of the time. His views on the drama were no less utilitarian: 
Terences’ comedies, he said, are an instructive mirror of the real 
world, Latin school plays a good training in language, religious 
plays an efficient means for the propagation of evangelical truth. 
The arts of form simply had no existence for him: in 1511 he 
travelled through northern Italy to Rome, at the height of the 

248 



Renaissance, but he has not one single word for the beauty of 
Italy’s works of art. In Florence he was most impressed by the 
cleanliness of the hospitals, and in Rome he only complains that 
so much German money flowed thither to pay for the great build¬ 
ings. Even in the cathedral of Cologne and the Minster of Ulm 
he was only interested in the bad acoustics, which interfered with 
divine service. For the historical significance of Rome he had as 
little understanding as for the artistic; in fact, in contrast to his 
friend Melanchthon, he seems to have been completely lacking in 
the historical sense. Thus he called Julius Caesar “ a mere ape,” 
but praised Cicero as a philosopher far above Aristotle, because 
he used his powers in the service of the State, while Aristotle in 
contrast was a “ lazy ass.” To explain away such judgments as 
these — concerning the greatest strategic and political genius of 
Rome, and the most universal and active mind of ancient Greece, 
the mind that gathered, ordered, and set down the sum of Clas¬ 
sical knowledge and founded half a dozen new sciences—by 
merely labelling them as “ subjective ” is insufficient. They could 
only be the result of a complete blindness to historical relations. 

This crucial defect of historical understanding shows itself in 
the crudest form in his attitude to the revolted peasants, which 
has left an ugly blemish on his whole life. The Peasants’ War was 
the supreme attempt towards a social revolution that Germany 
has ever experienced, and it was only rawness of discipline among 
the peasants and the dark jealousy among their leaders which 
prevented its reaching its goal. Its source, as we have said before, 
lay in the ideas of primitive Christianity. Primarily it was directed 
against the wealthy clerical hierarchy, much less against the 
temporal princes, and not at all against the aristocracy; and 
it was even hoped that the Emperor himself might head the move¬ 
ment. Luther also, who had always preached the return to the 
Gospels, was assumed to be the obvious leader. The most danger¬ 
ous feature of the rising was the fact that from the first it was not 
limited to the open country-side, but spread to the towns, where 
there had long been a violent ferment going on among the pro¬ 
letariate and with them the poorest of the clergy; in a word, the 
whole Fourth Estate was concerned in a movement of extraor¬ 
dinary extension and depth. 

The demands of the famous Twelve Articles of 1525 were 


Luther 
the P 
ants 3 I 



moderate enough: each parish was to choose its own pastor, tithe- 
dues were to be maintained, but other dues were to be removed, 
serfdom to be abolished, the rights of hunting, fishing, and col¬ 
lecting wood to be unrestricted. As the movement proceeded, 
further perfectly reasonable demands were put forward — for ex¬ 
ample, unity of standards of coinage and of measures throughout 
Germany, removal of all tolls, the reform of the judicial system. 
The nobility were to be indemnified for their losses under these 
heads out of the property of the Church, the complete seculariza¬ 
tion of which was one of the most important points in the pro¬ 
gram. The opposition, however, refused any concession, war burst 
forth, and, like bees when they swarm, the peasants poured in from 
all sides. There was no real resistance in the towns, all the princes 
in Franconia and on the Rhine submitted within a few weeks, and 
a vast peasants’ Parliament was called at Heilbronn to discuss 
the reform of the Empire in detail. But at the same time a far 
more radical group, with communistic tendencies, the “ Ana¬ 
baptists ” under the leadership of Thomas Miinzer, was making 
victorious progress. If Thuringia and Franconia had united for a 
final stroke, the collapse of the “ Whites ” would have been almost 
inevitable, but, squandering and dissipating their strength in sieges 
and plunderings, they were defeated — chiefly by the cavalry, in 
which they were themselves wholly lacking — in seven battles 
that followed in rapid succession; and by September the revolt 
was practically at an end. The narrowness, selfishness, and 
cruelty with which the whole question of the peasants had been 
handled in the war left their traces through all the following 

centuries and are not unconnected even with the confusion of the 
present day. 

At this decisive moment in German history Luther failed com¬ 
pletely.^ He quoted Jesus Sirach: “ give the ass food, a load, and 
the whip, and applied these words to the peasants; he thought 
of the countryman, not as the feeder, but as the beast of burden 
of human society. Atrocities were committed by both sides during 
the war though certainly more by the opposition — and such 
things were quite in keeping with the character of the age. Lu¬ 
ther s attitude of extreme hostility to the peasants may be ex¬ 
plained to some extent by the fact that he received very one-sided 
accounts of their activities; and, moreover, must have felt a justifi- 



able resentment at his purely religious work being side-tracked 
into politics. But it is utterly inexcusable in him that he took up this 
position of ill-will even before the outbreak of hostilities. In his 
reply to the Twelve Articles he flatly rejected almost all their 
claims. Thus, to the quite legitimate claim that the tithe should 
be used in the first place to pay the minister and secondly to sup¬ 
port the poor of the parish, his answer was: “This article is mere 
plunder and highway robbery; for they want to seize for them¬ 
selves the tithe, which is not theirs, but the masters’, and do there¬ 
with what they will. Tf you wish to give and do good, do it from 
your own goods.” (And whose goods, if not the peasant’s, pro¬ 
vided the tithes, that iniquitous and oppressive burden, which 
often reached as much as a third of the harvest and was never 
by any chance employed for purposes of common weal?) Bond- 
service he maintained was a God-pleasing institution — the Bible 
as usual being drawn on for the arguments, since Abraham had 
had bondservants, and Paul taught that every man should remain 
in that calling to which God has called him. But later on, too, 
when there had come to be some reason for disapproval, the 
kindest that we can say about his tone was that it was mistaken. 
In his pamphlet Against the Peasant Robbers and Murderers he 
wrote: “ It were high time that they should be strangled like mad 
dogs ” and “ Now should every man that can, smite, strangle, 
murder, openly or secretly. ... So wondrous are the times that 
a prince can deserve heaven better by bloodshed than others by 
prayer.” In this there bursts out the raw heathen, the barbarian 
and tyrant that lived, subdued only with difficulty, in the depths 
of Luther’s soul, and we are brought up against the appalling fact 
that in this God-forsaken sixteenth century — which counts as 
the great age of Christianity’s renewal — Christians became prac¬ 
tically extinct. 

The worst side of the whole business, however, was that in his 
astonishing violence and unwisdom Luther was to a large extent 
influenced by mere opportunism. Now opportunism is, of course, 
a quality which should not be judged too harshly, it is too human 
to be rebuked too strictly, and it is often the defect of the strong¬ 
est characters, whom the very fact of living so fully in their own 
sphere makes over-anxious for its security and only too often in¬ 
clined to compromise with the claims of the external world so as to 



Luther and 
tramubstan - 
tiation 


retain their own peace and freedom. Goethe and Schiller, Kant 
and Schopenhauer, Descartes and Galileo, all had more or less of 
it. And it is obvious beyond dispute that the statesman cannot 
steer his course without a full measure of it — nay, that his very 
function consists in the exercise of a more or less well-directed, 
shrewdly accommodating, and far-sighted opportunism. But we 
are entitled all the same to say that if there is one man who may 
never be opportunist, it is the reformer, for his fundamental mis¬ 
sion and highest vocation is not to tack, not to compromise or 
adapt, not to advance by by-ways, but to force into practice the 
definite ideal that has gripped his soul without concession, without 
restriction. Every reformer is a monomaniac. 

This was what Luther had been in the beginning, and it is the 
basis of his power over his contemporaries and his influence on 
history. Later on he swerved, and relied no more on the healthy 
instinct for right and truth which was his strongest potentiality, 
but tried all diplomatic finesse and half-way houses of all sorts, 
the side on which he was weakest. Maybe he believed himself to 
be helping his “ cause ” — namely, the spread of the Protestant 
Church—but the cause of him, that for which God sent him into 
the world, was a very different one: it was always to speak, without 
qualification or hesitation, looking neither to right nor to left, 
what was in his heart. Maybe his sudden decay was due to some 
extent to a sort of tcedium vitee to which he fell a victim remark¬ 
ably early in life. As early as 1530 we find him writing to Ludwig 
Senfl, the most important German church musician of the time: 
“ Indeed, I think my life will soon end. The world hates me and 
cannot endure me, and as for me, the world irks me, I scorn it.” 
His was probably one of those volcanic natures like Herder’s, 
Rousseau’s, or Nietzsche’s, which use themselves up in colossal 
eruptions and whose life has no autumn. 

Luther, as we have said, had not the gift of understanding 
things historically and was in general an unscientific mind. He 
had not the power to arrange his ideas, to connect them and de¬ 
duce them one from another; which is the more surprising be¬ 
cause the scientific literature of the sixteenth century has a 
splendid record of lucid structure, strictness, and comprehensive 
outlook. His inability to think systematically and logically is re¬ 
sponsible for a good deal of the later babble and chatter of Protes- 

252 



tant theology, of which an example can be seen already in his 
views on the nature of Communion. 

The conception of Transubstantiation presented no difficulty 
to the mediaeval world-view, since for it, as we have explained at 
length, only universals had real existence. Therefore, not the in¬ 
dividual Host, but the highest universal of the omnipresent God 
that appears in it possessed, and alone possessed, reality. There 
were, of course, free-thinkers even in early days who opposed the 
doctrine of real change of substance, but they had no success. 
Most famous was the Berengarian struggle in the middle of the 
eleventh century led by Berenger of Tours, who taught that the 
words of institution were to be understood as ennobling the ele¬ 
ments through the spiritual presence of Christ. His doctrine was 
condemned and he himself forced to a recantation in which he 
declared that the body of Christ was bitten in pieces in Com¬ 
munion by the teeth of the faithful. On the other hand the Swiss 
Zwingli, Calvin, and their followers declared that the Communion 
was only a symbolical act, a memorial ceremony, so that the Host 
merely represented the body of Christ. Both views are clear in 
themselves, and a clear decision between the two is possible. Even 
today anyone can make really his own the idea of an actual tran¬ 
substantiation, and, equally, anyone can conceive Communion as 
a purely spiritual act. Luther, with the mediaeval bent of his 
mind, was undoubtedly inclined to the former view, which indeed 
he stubbornly maintained at the Marburg conference. But 
he would not allow that the Catholics might be right in a 
single point; yet the Calvinistic view, again, was for him too 
modern. Thus he chose a middle interpretation, and this was 
such that no man can imagine anything whatever by it. The body 
of Christ was in the consecrated material in the sense that fire 
is in a heated iron, and as heat and iron subsist together, so too 
do the Host and the body of Christ. Thus — as Voltaire put it 
jestingly, but expressively—the Papists enjoy God, the Cal¬ 
vinists bread, the Lutherans bread and God. A more hope¬ 
less confusion than Luther’s it is impossible to conceive. He 
eliminated the mystery — through pure anti-papalism — and re¬ 
jected the philosophical explanation; he taught a transub¬ 
stantiation in which the elements undergo and do not undergo 
change. 



Luther and 
the dogma 
of Justifi¬ 
cation 


Paul 


But the central problem of the whole reform movement and 
the key to all its later development was the question of the es¬ 
sence of justification. Catholic doctrine bases repentance on three 
stages, the “ contritio cordis” the “ confessio oris,” and the “ sa- 
tisfactio opcris.” Luther admitted only the first of these, repent¬ 
ance of the heart, and fanatically — and what was worse, unin¬ 
telligibly— opposed the other two, confession and works. But this 
involved a still deeper complication. The point on which, obvi¬ 
ously, every solution depends is the decision between free-will 
and the rule of predestination. This is the primary problem, for 
before we can approach the question of the form and manner of 
justification, we must make the preliminary decision whether the 
human will is free at all. Here Luther, as he often and gladly ad¬ 
mitted, was influenced deeply and enduringly by two of the great¬ 
est teachers of the Church, Paul and Augustine. 

Paul is the first figure in the world of the New Testament 
whom we can concretely grasp. The Gospels display to us figures 
in a flickering, uncertain, one is almost tempted to say impres¬ 
sionistic light, at one time in misty veiling, at another in dazzling 
over-brightness; but the letters of Paul are like a voice that we 
can hear close by, his is a dramatic figure that we see striving, 
stumbling, victorious; a mortal who personifies that most funda¬ 
mental quality of all life, paradox; a man, like all earthly crea¬ 
tures, now harsh, now gentle, here boundless, there narrow, fool 
and yet saint. And it is just because he is the most human of all 
figures whom we know in the history of early Christianity that he 
became at all later turning-points the leader and the type. All 
the great renewers of Christianity have linked themselves on to 
Paul, and among them, inevitably, Luther. 

There are two diametrically opposite views of the role that 
Paul played in the development of Christianity. One, which main¬ 
tains that without Paul the teachings of the Gospels would never 
have conquered the world, and that Paul is, therefore, the real 
founder of Christianity, is so absurd and so contemptible that it 
is not worth our while to refute it. The other view derives from 
Nietzsche, the most intellectually powerful of all the opponents 
of ecclesiastical Christianity, who, with an unfailing instinct, 
made this greatest of all the Fathers the target of his main offen¬ 
sive. In his posthumous fragment The Antichrist he paints the de- 

254 



velopment of early Christianity, as it presents itself to Him, with 
the brush of a Dante. “ This glad messenger lived as he taught, 
not to ‘ redeem ’ mankind, but to show how man ought to live. 
. . . He does not resist, he does not assert his rights, he takes 
no single step to ward off his final destiny; rather, he challenges 
it. . . • And he prays, suffers, loves with those and in those who 
do him evil. . . . Not to defend oneself, not to show anger, not 
to condemn . . . but yet not to resist those that are evil, but to 
love them. ... At bottom there has been only one Christian, 
and he died on the cross. The £ glad tidings ’ died on the cross, 
and what since that day has been called so was the very opposite 
of what he lived, an c ill tidings,’ a dysangelium. . . . Ma nif estly, 
it was just the essential that the primitive community missed: 
how to die after this fashion, in freedom from and sublimation 
above all resentment. . . . But his disciples were far from for¬ 
giving his death — that would have been evangelical in the highest 
sense.” (We might remark, parenthetically, that an antichristian 
who can write words like this may be far nearer the understanding 
of the Saviour than those Christian ministers who seek to prove 
their Christianity by babbling the phrases of the Gospels so long 
that they have lost all feeling for them. God grant us many more 
such atheists as Nietzsche! If they possess so noble a soul, so pure 
a passion for the truth, and if they live so exemplary a life of saint¬ 
liness and patience, they deserve God better thereby than they 
would do by confessing Him.) 

May we, then, say with Nietzsche that Paulinism is nothing 
more than a single great act of vengeance of the “ Chandala-soul ” 
— a barbarization and complete dechristianization of Christian¬ 
ity? Such a view would certainly be wrong. For that which in the 
story of Jesus gave most profoundly to think was his death. In 
this lay the supremely new, the inconceivably terrible and won¬ 
derful fact, that the greatest whom God had ever sent into the 
world had not been elevated above all men as their guide, their 
teacher, and their king, but brutally executed, put to the shame¬ 
ful death of a slave — and that of his own will and seeking. The 
question then arose how all this was to be explained; and the 
answer, the only answer, was that it was for our sakes that 
the grand reversal of the world-order had been allowed, that for 
us who are unjust the justest had suffered injustice, that the 


2KK 



innocent had suffered so that we might find atonement and bless¬ 
edness. There was no other way in which Paul could make the 
thing intelligible, and all the creeds right up to the present day, 
true or false, have found no other explanation. 

If we would sum up Paul’s historical significance in a single 
phrase, we might say that he was the first Christian theologian. 
He took the religious ideas which were spread about in early 
Christian communities and brought them into a sort of system, 
into a logical sequence of ideas which could be easily impressed, 
retained, and propagated. But in so defining this achievement of 
Paul we must not commit the error of belittling it. Every genius 
uses his own language, a private idiom which is naturally in¬ 
telligible to only a few beyond himself. He therefore needs an 
interpreter, an intellectual power that will try to speak forth the 
ineffable, to express the inexpressible, to put into earthly, com¬ 
prehensible forms the eternal, infinite idea. A good formula is not 
to be despised, for it also is spirit — the spirit which preserves for 
later times what would otherwise have vanished. This is the sort 
of service which Aristotle rendered to Greek thought. The formula 
of the crucified Son of God, who has washed away the sin of the 
world, gave to thousands who were not ripe for the purer doctrine 
of Christ a symbol that was not an empty fancy, but something 
by which they could benefit both in practice and in theory. 

The Judaic But there is one word in Paul’s doctrine which will not readily 
apanie spirit of the Gospels — the notion of sin. The God of 

Jesus is grace, infinitely deep and infinitely wide, reigning beyond 
good and evil — grace not as reward or recompense, but simply 
grace as itself. God is not the judge who acquits, but the Father 
who forgives. But for Paul, God and man are somehow engaged in 
a mysterious balancing of accounts; he could not endure the 
thought that God was, not just, but above justice; and indeed to 
most men this idea would have meant no liberation, but a tor¬ 
menting riddle. It was an idea too wide, too great, too difficult, 
and too deep. Jews could not grasp it because for thousands of 
years God and law had been the same thing — and in Paul him¬ 
self it was the Pharisee that responded so willingly to the doc¬ 
trine of the sacrifice of Christ. The Romans, for their part, were 
far too well broken in to legalism for it to be possible for them 
to give up the idea of a satisfaction, and the Greeks, with their 

256 



concrete corporeal form of thinking and their all-defining ra¬ 
tionalism, would have found a God of boundless grace incom¬ 
prehensible. 

Therefore it is with some justification that Lagarde made his 
apparently paradoxical statement that Paul is the most Jewish 
of all the Apostles. The assumption that God could not wipe out 
original sin except by the sacrifice of His Son goes back to the 
Old Testament God of Jewry, who is above all a just God, who 
still works on the plan of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a 
tooth; it makes the Atonement something of a business deal. Yet 
it is only this fundamental premiss that God’s grace could not 
be bought save by the death of the innocent — that it had to be 
bought at all — which was repellent; within the actual doctrine 
of salvation Paul completely abandoned the juristic and Tal¬ 
mudic standpoint and emphasized again and again that man is 
not justified by works but only by grace and by faith. Thus in the 
Epis.de to the Romans: “For there is no difference; for all have 
sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely 
by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. . . . 
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the 
deeds of the law ”; and in Ephesians: “ For by grace are ye saved 
through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; 
not of works, lest any man should boast ”; here there is already 
a negation of the freedom of the will. But already in the Epistle 
of James we have the doctrine of what is called synergism, the 
working together of faith and grace: a combination which found 
little favour with Luther. “What doth it profit, my brethren, 
though a man say he hath faith and have not works? . . . Faith 
if it hath not works is dead, being alone. . . . Seest thou how 
faith wrought with (Swiipyei) his works, and by works was faith 
made perfect ? ” Thus the New Testament itself contains a con¬ 
flict of opinion on the doctrine of satisfaction. 

Augustine, the second great teacher of Luther, asserted with 
absolute definiteness the unfreedom of the will and predestina¬ 
tion. For him man is a “ massa peccati,” and, therefore, a “massa 
perditionis,” of which, through the “ gratia gratis data,” a “ certus 
numerus electorum ” is saved. Adam alone possessed the free¬ 
dom not to sin (“ posse non peccare ”), and because of original 
sin mankind is in the condition of unfreedom (“ non posse non 


Aug 


OZ *7 


feccare ”). Hence works obviously lose all significance. If we ob¬ 
ject and ask why God in His eternal provision should not have left 
the evil uncreated, Augustine replies with an aesthetic argument, 
and says that sin also belongs to the unitary picture of the world, 
as black in its right place to the total effect of a picture, or as a 
perfect song depends upon contrasts. The opposing doctrine of 
Pelagius was condemned at the Council of Ephesus, though even 
in Augustine’s lifetime a wide acceptance was accorded to the 
mediatory position taken up by the “ Massilians,” monks of 
Marseilles whom the Middle Ages called Semi-Pelagians. They 
taught that grace was indispensable indeed, but that its working 
referred to the free will of man, so that predestination rested on 
the omniscience of God, which foresaw how men in the future 
would act by the freedom of their will. They taught, also, the co¬ 
operation of faith and works, and since then, timidly in theory, 
though more decisively in practice, sanctification by works has 
established itself more and more firmly in Catholicism. In any 
case, the idea has been capable of extraordinarily wide applica¬ 
tion, embracing both the most revolting practice in the matter of 
absolution, and the loftiest holiness of life; so far as the principle 
is concerned, the repulsive and unchristian character which the 
Protestants tried to attach to it is quite undeserved. 

Furthermore, a work that outwardly harmonizes with the 
•commandments is not for that reason alone a good work; the 
goodness arises only with the intentio, the spirit in which it is 
done; and correspondingly, according to Catholic doctrine, the 
mere intention, if the opportunity or the possibility fails, is as 
valuable as the accomplished work. The Council of Trent says: 
“ Faith is the origin of all salvation, the groundwork and root of 
all justification, for without it it is impossible to please God and 
to become as one of His children.” In similar fashion Luther: 
“ Good and pious works never make a good and pious man, but 
a good and pious man always does good works. As trees must be 
before the fruits, and the fruits make the trees neither good nor 
bad, but the trees the fruit, so must a man be pious or evil in his 
heart before he does good or evil works.” Luther’s tree corresponds 
obviously to the Catholic u intention,” but if we think the com¬ 
parison out it involves a recognition of the natural necessity of 
the works, for it is of the essence of the tree — of the good tree cer- 

^ rft 



tainly — that it should bring forth fruit. The reproach that Catho¬ 
lic doctrine demands sanctification by works and thus encourages 
self-righteousness has been handsomely answered by Adam 
Mohler in his “ Symbolik ” with the thesis that the destination of 
the doctrine is precisely to call forth holy works, and to bring it 
about that we ourselves become just. 

If, now, we attempt to review the meaning and content of all 
this in an unprejudiced spirit, a strange conclusion emerges. 
Protestantism denies justification by works and puts repentance 
in the heart, in mere faith, and yet at the same time it demands a 
practical, active Christianity and thus again comes back to a sort 
of sanctity of works; more, as we shall soon see, it sanctifies even 
profane works, thus achieving the last degree of sanctimonious¬ 
ness. Catholicism accepts justification by works, but means by 
the latter only performances of a minor sort, and thus it arrives 
at apotheosizing the unworldly and other-worldly life, which is 
concentrated on inner penitence and meditation, and which 
knows nothing of profane works in the ordinary sense. Thus, 
starting from opposite standpoints, each ends in the contrary view 
from that with which it began: Protestantism, opposed to works, 
ends in a glorification of the most worldly tasks, the State, the 
magistrates, the family, manual work, science, even war; the 
more worldly Catholicism rises to complete contempt for all these 
things: emperor, wife, learning, property, and the active life are 
things from which it flees to its heights. In addition we have the 
further paradox that reactionary Catholicism was often more 
tolerant, conciliatory, and accommodating than freedom-loving 
Protestantism. Even so unprejudiced a judge as Zinzendorf em¬ 
phasized that “ Catholics carry upon their lips and their banner 
an anathema against their opponents, but in practice are often 
very complaisant towards them; we Protestants have liberty upon 
our lips and as our watchword, and yet in practice, though I say 
it with regret, there are amongst us many conscience-hangmen.” 

Actually in this question of justification the issue is really only 
theological; no Catholic who was a true Christian ever believed 
that works only suffice, and no Protestant if he was a true Chris¬ 
tian believed that faith alone was enough; for faith in Christ and 
imitation of Christ are completely identical. If we believe in Him, 
we must live His life, or at least try to live it, and whoever does 



Calvinism 


this is Christian and has proved his faith in the surest fashion. To 
assert one-sidedly the value either of works or of faith is to fail in 
the understanding of Christ, to whom doctrine and works were 
inseparable. It was precisely because He lived out His teaching to 
its uttermost consequences that He became the Saviour, and it was 
precisely because His life was such that it was elevated to a 
doctrine. 

But if we balance Protestantism and Catholicism against each 
other in this way, the former still suffers a serious defect in its 
fundamental rejection of monasticism. In a world of cheating, 
murder, and lust the possibility must be given for a certain class 
to live only for God, both for their own sakes and for the sake of 
their example to others. Obviously, not all Catholic monks have 
been true monks. Doubtless only a fraction of them have been 
urged to the cloister by a passion to live for God. But it is the fact 
that Protestantism has provided no room for such people that is 
so serious. The suspicion is unavoidable that bare utilitarian 
tendencies played their part here, and that the beginning of a mer¬ 
cantile age was unwilling to allow any justification for the ex¬ 
istence of “ idlers.” 

In the religiousness of the Reformation period we may trace, 
broadly, three stages. The lowest stage was the current Catholi¬ 
cism, which, if not in theory, at any rate in practice, was nothing 
but the crudest worship of external forms and ceremonies, me¬ 
chanical repentances and services. Opposed to this was the doc¬ 
trine of the reformers, in whom we may see the second stage, and 
who emphasized the unique power of faith, although to a con¬ 
siderable degree (especially in the interpretation later given to it) 
their teaching remained narrowly and rigidly doctrinaire, com¬ 
pressed dogmatism. The highest stage was seen in the so-called 
radicals, who were deadly serious in their desire to return to primi¬ 
tive Christianity; they included in various shades and tones the 
whole spectrum of unqualified religiousness, from the extreme 
revolutionary fantasies of the Anabaptists to the purest specula¬ 
tion of Protestant mysticism. If the reformers were heretics to 
Catholicism, the radicals were heretics in the second degree, 
heretics of the Reformation; the former aimed at a Church with¬ 
out a pope, the latter at a Christianity without any Church 
at all. 


260 



The second, Protestant stage found its purest representative 
in Calvinism. In his Church government in the republic of Geneva 
Calvin founded a system which far surpassed anything in the way 
of supervision or inquisition of conscience that Catholicism had 
ever attempted. Clerical police interfered everywhere; every ex¬ 
pression of natural enthusiasm and spontaneous enjoyment was 
suspect, forbidden, and punished. Every kind of festivity and 
occupation, games, dancing, singing, theatre, even the reading of 
novels, was foibidden. Oivine service was held within bare walls, 
without decoration, ornament, or altar, without even a picture of 
Christ to beautify it. Cursing, skittles, loud jesting, and naughty 
talk were punished by severe penalties, adultery by death. Calvin, 
unlike Luther, had a deductive mind, a clear and systematizing 
intellect. In him the Latin qualities of order and logic, of arrange¬ 
ment and method, but at the same time of uniformity and mecha¬ 
nism, for the first time rose to the supremacy which they have held 
throughout the later cultural development of France. For all the 
difference of outward structure, there is a curious similarity be¬ 
tween Calvin’s Geneva regimentation of faith and Jacobinism. 
Remove the veneer of Christianity with which this evangelical 
community was coated, and we find the same half-ludicrous and 
half-terrible figure of unreason and megalomania. It rests on two 
premisses, both foolish, both untenable — firstly, that all men are 
naturally alike or at least can be minted alike by suitable and 
properly handled dies, and secondly that the State is justified in 
taking, and even obliged to take, note of everything, whereas in 
truth its essence is just the reverse and its sole task is to deal with 
that which the individual will not or cannot control. It is only a 
secondary difference that this dread monster appears in Calvin 
as a theocracy and in Jacobinism as philosophy; and moreover 
there are even certain similarities in their rationalistic interpreta¬ 
tion of religion. 

On the one side Calvinism is wholly mediseval, for it does 
wholly realize the spiritual state, the omnipotence of the Church, 
which had always been the aim of the Papacy; it is even immemo- 
riably old, for it is as old as the Old Testament. But on the other 
side it is very modern, far more modern than Lutheranism: 
namely, in the much more fundamental purism of its complete 
iconoclasm and of its symbolic interpretation of the sacraments; 



The 

Radicals 


in the decided emphasis it lays on the republican and demo¬ 
cratic element and its absolutist policing of its subjects; in its 
humanistic-critical treatment of theological problems; and 
above all in its militant, aggressive, expansionist imperialism. 
From Geneva comes the paradoxical but highly significant 
phenomenon of a Christianity of the sword; it is the origin of 
French world-policy, Dutch colonial expansion, and English sea 
power. 

The burning of Servetus is not a “ stain ” on the story of Cal¬ 
vin, in the same sense that Luther’s attitude during the Peasants’ 
War was so, but a logical consequence of his system. Calvinism 
was an undisguised hierarchy, and the burning of heretics be¬ 
longed in it as an organic part. Servetus, who apart from his 
theology was one of the greatest physiologists of his time, had 
denied the Trinity as unbiblical, tritheistic, and atheistic. There¬ 
upon he was prosecuted by Calvin, with the hearty approval of 
Melanchthon, who declared the act to be a pious and memorable 
example for the whole of posterity. Such indeed was the view, at 
the time, of almost all Protestants on questions of religion; and 
the now conventional notion that they were the champions of 
freedom, while the Catholics were the servants of darkness, is 
based on a liberal perversion of history. In fact Protestantism 
could wipe out error with a far clearer conscience than Catholi¬ 
cism could, in that it believed in predestination; Luther’s inclina¬ 
tion, as we have seen, was in the same direction, but he expressed 
himself only in an obscure and contradictory fashion. Catholi¬ 
cism never approved it, and it was only spared official condemna¬ 
tion out of respect for Augustine. Calvin, however, backed the 

doctrine, of which Charles V said that it was more bestial than 
human, to its extreme logical issue. 

The more heretical a belief is, the purer it tends to be; indeed 
the word “ Ketzer” is actually derived from the Greek “ katha- 
ros. Really free religiousness was at that time found only in the 
radicals, Karlstadt, Miinzer, the Anabaptists and Mystics. Karl- 
stadt was one of a type that is thrown up by every new move¬ 
ment, the muddle-head that undoes or compromises everything. 

unzer is harder to judge definitively: he and his followers were 
called by Luther “ prophets of murder ” and he in his turn called 
Luther the uninspired, soft-living flesh of Wittenberg,” “ arch- 

262 



rascal, arch-pagan, Wittenberg Pope, dragon-basilisk.” His aim 
was to abolish not only papacy, bishops, prelates, and monks, but 
every kind of spiritual mediator; he meant it seriously when he 
said that every believer was his own priest and could find salva¬ 
tion only by direct intercourse with God. He desired the elimina¬ 
tion not only of prebends and monasteries, but of every kind of 
privilege, lordship, and subordination, and even all personal 
property. He opposed not merely the authority of the Church 
tradition, but the authority even of the written letter and appealed 
only to the inner word which God even today proffered to every 
truly illuminated soul. Certainly he was a fanatic who did not 
shrink from deeds of violence, destruction, and bloodshed, but he 
had a high degree of religious genius. It is a criminal eagerness, 
he taught, that leads us to vaunt the gentle Christ and His media¬ 
tory passion, seeking to save ourselves the cross by His cross, to 
avoid the travail of rebirth by merely believing. Here he rejects de¬ 
cisively, and with the most cogent reasons, the Lutheran doctrine 
of justification. For him faith can be born only in doubt and deso¬ 
lation, in purgatory and hell, and each one must find his way to 
God anew amid all the agony and toil of the night. The revelation 
of the inner word is impossible until the ego, the world, and the 
flesh are dead. Christ cannot become man, nor the Holy Spirit 
reveal itself, in a carnal man. At the same time Miinzer believed 
in the possibility of visions and illuminations, in higher inspira¬ 
tions and immediate interferences of God. 

Associated with Miinzer were the Anabaptists, who like him 
taught that the members of the new kingdom of God received 
their inspiration direct from God, by means of absorption in a 
tranquillity wherein all natural feelings and passions are extin¬ 
guished. Seeing that such a relation to the eternal was possible 
only to a fully developed Christian, they rejected child baptism, 
and the only qualification for admission to their community was 
personal Christianity and moral piety; to the sacraments they 
attached no value. Many of them had and rejoiced in chiliastic 
imaginings. All oaths were sinful, all churches homes of idolatry; 
and here they went even further than the iconoclasts. Lofty ideal¬ 
ism supported on a glad will to martyrdom lived in their teachings 
— which were more decidedly rej ected by the Protestants than by 
members of the old faith. 



Sebastian 

Franck 


But in any discussion of the German Reformation it is always 
the Mystics who deserve first place, for they embodied in the 
purest and deepest form the religious temper of the time and 
people. History is, however, a Philistine critic, which records in 
heavy letters only the names of the successful, but loses sight of, 
or remembers in only the smallest type, the men who swam ahead 
of them in the stream of time. 

Most important of these mystics were Kasper Schwenckfeld, 
Valentin Weigel, and, above all, Sebastian Franck. 

Schwenckfeld, a Silesian to whom Luther was bitterly hostile, 
devoted his whole life to polemics against the written word, in 
which he saw a new slavery of the spirit and a new externalization 
of Christianity. The ministers who erred so far as to think that 
they alone were in possession of the true interpretation of the Bible 
were to him the founders of a new system of pretentious and 
monopoly-seeking clericalism. The whole of the external Church 
must, therefore, be abolished so that an inner may take its place. 
Weigel, whose writings were only spread abroad in manuscript in 
his lifetime, teaches that we can only know what we bear within 
ourselves. Thus, when a man understands himself, he has grasped 
the all: he grasps the earthly world because his own body is the 
quintessence of all visible substances, he grasps the world of spirit 
and angels because his spirit comes from the stars, and he knows 
God because his immortal soul has a divine origin. The epitaph he 
chose for himself ran as follows: “ 0 man, summa summarum, 
learn to know thyself and God: so hast thou enough, both here and 
there.” Sebastian Franck, of Donauworth, at first a Catholic 
priest, then a Lutheran preacher, finally a member of no creed, 
led an uncertain wandering life, amid much opposition; for like 
Schwenckfeld he taught that the letter was the sword of the Anti¬ 
christ, which slew Christ; he himself would have “ a free, unsec¬ 
tarian, non-party Christianity, bound to no outer thing ”; “ in our 
time three creeds have sprung up that have great following — Lu¬ 
theran, Zwinglian, and Baptist — and the fourth is already on the 
way: namely, that all external preaching, ceremony, sacrament, 
banner, profession will be swept from the path as useless, and we 
shall build in its place an invisible, spiritual Church, ruled only by 
the ever invisible word of God and with no outer means.” From 
this position outside all the churches he wins to the greatest toler- 

264 



ance: “ Mad zeal vexes all men today, that we should believe, as a 
party and like the Jews, that God is ours alone, that there is no 
heaven, faith, spirit, Christ but in our sect; each sect will allow its 
God to none other, even though a Saviour did come for the whole 
world. ... To me Papist, Lutheran, Zwinglian, Baptist, yea, 
even Turk is a good brother. ... In all ways I would have one 
be a free reader and judge and I would have none bound to my 
reason.” 

Not only on the Communion, but on all the teachings and 
institutions of Christian religion Franck took the symbolical view. 
The Fall of Adam and the Ascension of Christ are the eternal story 
of man, and in every man they are accomplished anew; Easter and 
Pentecost are transitory likenesses of the eternal Easter and 
Pentecost; finally, the Bible itself is an eternal allegory. As many 
that know it not are Adam, so also there are many that know it 
not that are Christ. Christ is crucified daily: “ There are Pharaohs, 
Pilates, Pharisees, scribes, who crucify Christ ever and ever again 
in themselves, though not outwardly and in the manner of the 
story.” In short, there has never been anything that does not in its 
own fashion still exist and eternally continue to exist: Antiochus, 
Sennacherib, Herod still live. God himself, however, is undefin- 
able, and what one says of Him is only shade and appearance. 
He is and works all things, and were sin something and not noth¬ 
ing, then God would be, also, sin in man. God condemns no one, 
but each man himself; to the righteous He is near, though far, and 
never nearer than when He seems to be furthest. The godless are 
hurt more than they are helped by good works, for good works do 
not make holy, j ust as evil works do not condemn; they only show 
forth the man. Therefore all works done in faith are equal. God, 
the contrast and counterpart to the world, is to the world Devil and 
Antichrist. The world’s riches and wisdom are before God the 
greatest poverty and folly, worldly power the greatest slavery. To 
the world, on the contrary, Antichrist, Satan, and his word are 
Christ, God, and the evangel. 

Now, during all this confusion and purgation what was the 
German Emperor doing? In spite of all his busy cleverness and 
successful activity, he did essentially nothing — that is, nothing 
corresponding to his world-historical position and the world- 
historical hour. High politics in Europe took quite other paths 



than those of reform and religion. It was just at this time that the 
great powers were consolidating and establishing themselves with 
the outlines that, speaking broadly, they have maintained 
throughout modern history: the western power of France, the 
northern of England, the central of the Habsburgs — the last most 
extensive and dangerous of all, since it included not merely the 
hereditary lands of Austria (to which Bohemia and Hungary 
were shortly to be added), but Spain, the New World, the Nether¬ 
lands, Franche-Comte, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, parts of South 
Germany (Hither Austria, so-called), and also, for a time, Wiirt- 
temberg. It was apparently invincible and therefore called forth 
ever fresh ramifications of alliance against itself. The great oppo¬ 
sition of France and Habsburg which has been determinative of 
most of modern history now appeared for the first time in clear 
and sharp outline, the primary objects of struggle being the duchy 
of Milan, south Italy, and Burgundy, to which both sides put for¬ 
ward historical claims. Charles V always regarded himself as in 
the first instance a king of Spain and, as emperor, felt himself not 
as suzerain of Germany, but as ruler of the world, as monarch of 
the universal empire of the Middle Ages. In his time and that of 
his still cleverer pupil (and later opponent) Maurice of Saxony, 
cabinet diplomacy took the helm — the diplomacy dictated only 
by the personal advantage of the dynasty; the accursed thing made 
up of lying deceit, obscure threats, half-promises, treacherous 
hedging, and deliberate setting of one against another, which 
achieved its highest triumphs in the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries. And simultaneously there developed and expanded a 
large-scale corruption-system of quite new universality and un¬ 
scrupulousness, possible only in an age of money-economy: it was 
at this time that gold and politics were united in that inseparable 
alliance which is characteristic of the modern age. The election of 
Charles V is already typical of the new method. Besides Charles 
there were three possible candidates: Frederick the Wise, Elec¬ 
tor of Saxony (who was the fittest), Francis I of France, and 
Henry VIII of England. But Charles won, not because he com¬ 
manded more sympathies or because political considerations 
were on his side, but simply because the great banking-house 
of Fugger guaranteed him the sums he had promised the 
electors. In other words, even then the greatest power was not 

266 



Spain or France or England but the financier with his money¬ 
bags. 

Charles s attitude to the evangelical Question was never dic¬ 
tated by any consideration for the needs of the German people, but 
by the position of his own foreign policy at the moment. The three 
decisive constituents out of which he built his policy at one mo¬ 
ment and at another, were the Pope, the East, and France; and 
this emerges clearly in the whole history of the German Reforma¬ 
tion from Luther’s breach with the Pope to the Peace of Augsburg. 
In 1521 Charles needed the alliance of the Pope for his first war 
against Francis of France: hence the veto on all innovations by 
the Edict of Worms and the ban of the Empire upon Luther. In 
1526 the Pope concluded with France the Holy League of Cognac, 
which was directed against the Emperor, and immediately the 
Protestants received a favourable atmosphere for the spread of 
their doctrines at the first Reichstag of Speyer. But the Peace of 
Cambrai followed in 1529, and with it the second meeting at 
Speyer and the renewal of the Edict of Worms. In 1530 Charles 
was crowned by the Pope, and the reply of the Great Parliament 
at Augsburg was sharp indeed. In the following years the danger 
from the Turk became ever more imminent, with the result that 
in 1532 there came the Religious Peace of Nurnberg, in which 
Protestants were permitted free practice of their religion until a 
general council should meet. The Peace of Crespy and the ar¬ 
mistice with Turkey gave the Emperor a free hand again for a new 
attempt to impose Church unity by force. The Schmalkaldic War 
followed, in which Charles’s brilliant victory at Muhlberg enabled 
him to force on the Protestants the Interim Peace of Augsburg, of 
which popular talk said that it “ had the fiend behind it.” Then the 
situation was once more changed by the revolt of the Elector 
Maurice of Saxony, the Augsburg Interim was cancelled in the 
Treaty of Passau, and by the Peace of Augsburg the rulers of the 
land and the free cities received the right to decide the religion of 
their subjects: “ cuius regio , eius religio .” 

During the whole of his reign Charles V enjoyed the most 
amazing good fortune; he was victorious against internal and 
external enemies, against rebels in Spain and the Netherlands, 
against popes and heretics, German dukes and Tunisian pirates, 

French and English, Indians and Turks. And yet all these victories 

* 

267 



chology 
of the 
zbsburgs 


at bottom led to nothing worth recording as a significant fact 
in European history; for it was implicit in his character, and 
that of the Habsburgs generally, that all their successes should 
run dry. 

This family, which contributed so decisively to influencing 
European history for more than five hundred years, is a psycho¬ 
logical riddle. In his monograph on Vienna — a masterpiece of 
psychological vivisection — Hermann Bahr says: “The Habs¬ 
burgs have included men of genius and simpletons, men tempestu¬ 
ous and peaceful, courteous and boorish, victorious and van¬ 
quished, sociable and unsociable, men of all kinds, but having one 
common quality, the lack of any sense of reality.” And in his brief 
but vivid Das Geschlecht Habsburg (The Habsburg Family) 
Kahler considers one of the most important qualities of the Habs¬ 
burgs to be their isolation. “ If there is one thing that distinguishes 
the Habsburgs from the descendants of other families, it is the fact 
that they are all . . . continually veiled in secrecy. In each one 
of them, and in all their activities, whether in political decisions 
or in the involuntary movements of their bodies, we can trace a 
remoteness from reality.” The one observation complements the 
other; they had no sense of reality because they were themselves 
not real. Bishop Liudprand of Cremona describes an audience he 
had with the Byzantine Emperor, whom he visited during the 
tenth century: “After I had three times thrown myself in the 
dust in reverence before the Emperor, I raised my eyes, and him 
whom I had seen as but of moderate height and enthroned upon 
the earth I saw now, in wholly new robes, towering almost to the 
roof. How it happened I cannot tell, unless perchance he were 
raised by some machine.” A similar machinery of a psychological 
kind served the Habsburgs: it was their natural gift and inherited 
faculty at any moment to hover “ in wholly new robes ” high 
above the earth. All the Habsburgs can be somehow included un¬ 
der this common denomination; they are here, yet not here, 
stronger than the real, yet weaker than it, like some bad dream 
or nightmare. They are transparent, two-dimensional, not to be 
grasped; there is no bridge from them to humanity nor from hu¬ 
manity to them. They are islands. “ Reality,” they said, “ was to 
be moulded according to them, not they according to reality ”; 
but this would be by very definition genius, for what else is genius 

268 



but the high-tension will to model the world and the age accord¬ 
ing to its own pattern ? Yet the Habsburgs, unfortunately, were no 
geniuses; and anyone who possesses that particular quality of 
genius without possessing genius itself is a dangerous fanatic and 
a foe to mankind. For centuries they controlled the real world 
from a self-created shadow-world, from which they never moved 
— truly a strange phenomenon. 

But the reverse of this curious displacement is the super¬ 
ficiality, the lack of enthusiasm, passion, and devotion, that char¬ 
acterizes all the Habsburgs; and not unrelated with this is their 
complete inability to learn, the famous Habsburg stubbornness, 
which scorned to learn anything fresh from men, things, or events, 
to thrive and develop on life. They have no evolution. Whether 
they were papal fanatics like Ferdinand II or liberal reformers 
like Joseph II, dull-witted legitimists like Francis II or anarchists 
like the Crown Prince Rudolf, the world-picture which they wish 
to force on the rest of humanity is always drawn from out of their 
own inner being, as the spider draws the threads of its web from 
its body. A classic example of all these qualities may be found in 
Francis Joseph I: in a life of nearly ninety years no man and no 
event ever came really near to him, and in a reign of nearly 
seventy he never allowed himself to be influenced by any adviser 
or by the change of the times, he never uttered a noteworthy or 
even a warm word, never made a strong gesture, never did any very 
lofty or very base action, whereby he might have been revealed 
as a brother of the rest of the world; it is as if history had meant 
to unite all the typical qualities of the family in its last representa¬ 
tive. And the whole line — that is the tragic-ironical epilogue of 
thi s six hundred years of destiny — ends with a cipher; Charles I 
was nothing more than a company officer — the day of the Habs¬ 
burgs was fulfilled. 

The other Charles I, called as German Emperor the Fifth, was The 

the beginning of the line of the true Habsburgs. Maximilian was Charles v 
still an ordinary German duke — gay, fond of sport, talkative, 
genial and pleasant, energetic, even if superficial, in his universal 
interests, a man among men. But the Habsburg veil shrouds his 
grandson. Who has ever read into his soul? Was he perhaps a 
megalomaniac of power, an insatiable glutton for lands, who tried 
to assimilate in the vast belly of his empire the whole world, 

269 



African coasts, American lands of fable, Italy, Germany, eastern 
France? Yet at his accession he gave away almost half his in¬ 
heritance to his brother, and at the zenith of his life he suddenly 
abdicated, retired to the cloister, became a gardener and a watch¬ 
maker, and had his own funeral mass read to him. Was he per¬ 
haps a faithful son of the Catholic Church who attempted forci¬ 
bly to prolong the Middle Ages and to stop the cleavage of the 
Church at any cost? Yet for half his life he was the bitter enemy 
of the Pope, and his landsknechts plundered and devastated the 
Holy City in the most horrible fashion. Was he German like his 
father, Spanish like his mother, Netherlandish like his home, 
French like his mother tongue? He was none of these — he was a 
Habsburg. 

With an almost incredible genius Titian has seized this mys¬ 
terious, isolated, unhuman quality of the Emperor in his two por¬ 
traits. He depicts him riding in the grey of morning over the field 
of Miihlberg, a knight in black armour, with lance couched, ap¬ 
proaching slowly like an irresistible fate, a victor who has no joy 
of his triumph; with the world at his feet—but what is the world ? 
In the portrait at Munich he is seated, clothed in simple black, 
his glance directed into unfathomable distances, as though all 
around him were air or glass through which his gaze pierces, hav¬ 
ing no part therein, a profoundly lonely creature, completely 
railed off from all life. In these pictures are expressed the whole 

tragedy of sovereignty and the whole curse of a race that cannot 
have a heart. 

Because he had no heart, all his sharp wit, his diplomacy, his 
comprehensive building and planning accomplished nothing. The 
central idea of his times was meaningless to him. He had it in his 
grasp, supporting himself on the knights, the lower clergy, the 
cities, and the peasants, to break the power of the greater dukes 
and to build up a real monarchy — the course, in fact, that com¬ 
mended itself to no less a man than the first Napoleon. The age 
was driving towards such a solution, and in all the other greater 
nations the experiment succeeded. We may doubt, however, 
whether it would have been a blessing, for Germany at least, if 
the Emperor had answered the challenge of the hour, for the 
democratic monarchy would soon have yielded to an absolute 
one, the nation State to a unit state, the German people to a 

270 



uniform despotically governed mass — and governed, moreover, 
from Spain. 

The real winner in these wars which fill the first half of the victory o 
sixteenth century was the almost always defeated France, which tkeoiog, 

rounded off its frontiers in the most useful form by seizing Metz, rciigm 

Toul, and Verdun out of the German confusion, and Calais from 
England. The English, as is well known, came over to the side 
of the Reformation in a very strange way: namely, through the 
wantonness of a king who split off from the Roman Church 
because the Pope would not grant him divorce and remarriage. 

In Sweden the new faith was introduced by Gustavus Vasa, 
who liberated his country from Danish supremacy and laid 
the foundations of its later position as a great power. In 
countries, too, which later became Catholic again — Austria, 

Bavaria, Hungary, Poland — Protestantism was ma kin g vic¬ 
torious progress. 

On German soil the change took many forms, communistic in 
the Anabaptist movement, socialistic in the Peasants’ Revolt, 
democratic in the turmoil of the towns, aristocratic in the risings 
of Sickingen, Hutten, and the lower nobility. Protestantism, how¬ 
ever, took no part in all these movements and so arrived at last 
at the princes, and became duodecimo-autocratic, courtly and par- 
ticularist. This aspect it permanently retained, and the fact that it 
never understood how to fuse with the genuinely new movements 
sealed its fate. Luther himself, to use his own homely expression, 
liked to hang on the lips of the great lords, and his collaborator 
Melanchthon did even more so. An odour of servility, a sneaking, 
humouring, eavesdropping quality, got into the routine of the 
churches and universities from then onwards and we can see the 
beginnings of the typical theologian who fawns upon his patron, 
the subservient tutor, the schoolmaster trembling for his daily 
bread, the devoted personal priest who “ knows his proper place ”; 
and the source of them all is Protestantism. For the Catholic 
priest still has in the background, to strengthen his self-respect, 
the omnipotent Church, but the evangelical has only his own 
paltry parish. In the former case the priest is still the servant of 
the idea, of the one universal Papal Church, in the other he is the 
valet of one or another insignificant lord. Hence, also, Protes¬ 
tantism involved not only an intolerance as stiff as that of 

271 



The 

monster 

creation 


Catholicism, but one that was far more square-toed, far more 
local, sectarian, and petty. 

Though there were plenty of men, certainly, who like Me- 
lanchthon would have preferred the vision of the secrets of the 
Divinity to their intellectual research of them and started from 
the principle that “ to know Christ is to know His deeds, not to 
reflect on His natures and the manner of His incarnation,” yet, 
taken all in all, the Reformation did not mean the outburst of a 
purer, deeper, more fundamental relation to the Godhead, but, 
on the contrary, the victory of knowledge about faith over Faith 
itself. Theology triumphed at the last over religion. 

In practice, too, it was party that triumphed. Faith became 
more and more a matter of community and co-membership. 
Now, it may be possible to break stones or visit a music-hall in 
common, or to eat and drink in common, even to murder and 
take part in politics in common, but one cannot have mass- 
worship of God any more than one can have mass-love. The 
characteristic but senseless prejudice of modern man, that all hu¬ 
man activities can, nay, must be carried out in common, the 
ambition of the modern age to make of all humanity a factory, a 
barrack, a vast hotel, a trust, a reformatory, began to infest re¬ 
ligion too. The consequence of this massive mass-religiousness 
was the Thirty Years’War. 

The Reformation was not a creative religious movement. 
There have been some who quite seriously wished to include 
Luther among those who have inaugurated new religions, but such 
men were possible only in the East and in the Classical age — 
though perhaps again possible in Russia today. The atmos¬ 
phere of the sixteenth century was not a religious one, it was far 
too dry, too cool and sharp; it was a world of merchants, diplo¬ 
mats, antiquaries, scribblers, far removed from all craving for 
eternity, devoted wholly to this world; and even a Luther could 
not remain uninfluenced by the spirit of the age. 

The men of that age almost make us believe the sad words of 
Goethe: “ Men exist only to trouble and kill each other; so was 
it, so is it, and so shall it ever be.” Yet post-Christian human¬ 
ity has one vast superiority over the man of antiquity — it 
has a bad conscience. Human beings have not altered; they live 
for the senses, act for their own advantage, are selfish, use force, 

272 



deceit, and injustice; but they no longer do so thoughtlessly and 
in good faith, but haltingly, secretly, and fearfully. They no longer 
possess the humour of the beast of prey. That is perhaps the one 
achievement of Christianity, so far. 

Here we touch upon the nuclear problem of Christianity, the 
immense question: How is it that, on the one hand, man is un¬ 
deniably an evil creature, and yet, on the other, does not will to 
be evil? Why does not he make a clear decision between his two 
possibilities ? He is neither beast nor angel; the beast does, without 
moral scruple, all that is of service to itself and its posterity; the 
angel possesses a conscience and acts accordingly. Mankind does 
neither one thing nor the other, he lives a life neither God-pleasing 
nor natural. Thus, through this portentous dilemma, he is a gro¬ 
tesquely unique and contradictory absurdity in creation as a 
whole. He is a huge abortion, a walking question-mark. If he is 
good, why does he do evil ? If he is evil, why does he love the good ? 
The destiny of every one of us puts these two terrifying questions 
anew. 

J. V. Jensen, in his description of Peking, makes the striking 
and illuminating remark that the present-day Chinese of the up¬ 
per classes remind us of the men of that time. “ Many a crafty old 
Chinese might quite well have been one of the great men of the 
Reformation period, as we see them in their portraits — reserved, 
but inwardly full of the religious ambitions of the time, of its 
vigour and its covetousness. ... In spite of the splendid por¬ 
traits of the time which we possess, in spite of all that history has 
preserved for us right down to the smallest particulars, I have tried 
in vain to give myself a picture of these men as they lived, al¬ 
though we know for certain that they did live. I have never been 
able to see and hear them convincingly. Some sort of contact with 
them is possible, perhaps, through the peasant of today — some¬ 
thing of the mask — but only in China can one really relive the 
Middle Ages, for thus it was that they lived, queerly hesitant, 
dawdling wilfully and from a sense of their style, as peasants will 
even today and, above all, slow.” Indeed, the whole culture of the 
time was peasant-like; even the rulers, even the artists and the 
educated classes, were only better-class peasants, and we can well 
understand that a subtler and more complicated individual, with a 
sure sense of nuances and an inkling of the deeper irony of things, 


Grobianisi 


m 



such as Erasmus had, must have felt the world to be an intolerable 
place. Further, there was in the men of that age something of the 
wily shrewdness of the Mongol — which strikes us as a natural 
product needing no explanation and therefore is in no wise un¬ 
moral — though certainly they had none of the psychological flair 
and adaptability which Jensen so praises in the Chinese. The 
period had an extreme coarseness, and the nascent rationalism, 
which is its mark, gives to its products an impression of something 
primitively artificial, childishly mechanical. The Humanists, who 
gave the science and the poetry its special quality, seem like 
poorish copies of the Italian Humanism, which they reproduce in 
cheaper colours. There were, of course, extraordinary talents 
among them, and one of the most interesting of these — if for 
no other reason, for his amazing many-sidedness — was Kon¬ 
rad Celtes, the German arch-Humanist. He was the first German 
poet to be crowned as poet laureate, the first German professor 
who lectured on general world-history and on German imperial 
history; he was the discoverer of the Tabula Pcutingcriana, a 
Roman map of the third century after Christ. He reformed the 
Nurnberg woodcut craft, inspired a new musical form, the so- 
called ode style; and published (indeed for a time was believed to 
have composed) the Latin dramas of the nun Hroswitha. 

Among the most outstanding traits of the time is the so-called 
“ Grobianism,” a term popularized, though not invented, by Se¬ 
bastian Brant: “We have now a new saint, Grobian, whom 
everyone likes to parade.” Almost all the writers of the age hurled 
pig’s language at each other. Luther’s polemical language was 
rarely anything but immoderate (for instance, he says of Erasmus: 
“ Anyone who suppresses Erasmus stamps out a bug, and then it 
stinks worse dead than alive ”); Fischart attacks the fashion of 
coarseness, but so coarsely that he belies his own efforts; and even 
so refined a scholar as Reuchlin called his opponents dogs, horses, 
mules, pigs, foxes, ravening wolves. With this desire to be popular 
and this wish to hit the object as telling a blow as possible, satire 
attained to a veritable hegemony and let itself go in a way that has 
never been paralleled in Germany before or since. The favourite re¬ 
proach is that of folly: “ fool ” is perhaps the commonest word in 
printed and everyday language alike. Brant’s chief work bears the 
title The Ship of Fools, Thomas Murner’s best-known product is 

274 



The Conspiracy of Fools; the cleverest book of the time is the 
Praise of Folly by the great Erasmus, in which everything is 
pilloried as folly, not only avarice, drunkenness, ambition, war, 
uncouthness, but marriage, child-bearing, philosophy, art, the 
Church, the State. Hans Sachs’s works, too, swarm with fools. 

The satirical genius of the time from which everyone, con- Rabefo 
sciously or unconsciously, borrowed had its home not in Ger¬ 
many, but in France, in Francois Rabelais. On the whole, his 
style is unpalatable to present-day readers. Along with an over¬ 
powering force, he possessed to an exaggerated degree what the 
French call “ la nostalgie de la boue.” There is an almost patho¬ 
logical pleasure and expansiveness in the way in which he goes 
into all his naturalia, which may not be blameworthy from the 
moral standpoint, but is certainly so from the sesthetic — whatever 
may be said to the contrary by the narrow-browed “ naturalist 
a-tout-prix” or the numerous inverted Philistines for whom a 
thing is forceful or suggestive precisely because it is revolting or 
unappetizing. Quite as intolerable as his coprophily is his exces¬ 
sive complexity, his passion for twisting and turning any subject 
with which he deals. His basic qualities are colossal exuberance, 
badness of taste, and ineptitude: indeed, his liking for a poor joke 
went so far that even his death was an opportunity for a play on 
words — he put on a domino because in the Bible it is written: 

“ Beati, qui moriuntur in domino.” But for the very reason that 
all he writes has the same superhuman dimensions as the stature, 
courage, and gluttony of his hero Gargantua, it is illegitimate to 
apply to him the ordinary canons of beauty and logic. His ap¬ 
petite for life and the representation of life was obviously gigan¬ 
tic, and his only error, perhaps, was that he assumed the same boil¬ 
ing-over vitality in his reader. In all that satirical, anti-clerical, 
and anti-scholastic age no one satirized the Church and Scholas¬ 
ticism with anything approaching his splendid frankness. He was 
a sort of satirical cannibal who gulped down vast helpings of 
hypocritical priests, barren professors, and corrupt officials. The 
“ esprit gaulois ” the “ esprit gaillard,” rose in him to a victorious 
and elemental outburst, to argue with which would be as absurd 
as arguing with a volcano. And yet he strikes us as wholly un- 
French, since he completely lacks that unadorned lucidity, that 
elegant sureness of touch and form, which are the supreme literary 

275 



ebeianism 
mitigated\ 
still 


glory of the land of “ clarte ” and “ bon gout ” But this literature 
was yet to be born, and Rabelais, such as he was, is the most fas¬ 
cinating and pregnant example of all the strength and faults of 
his time. He is immoderately eager for life through secret dis¬ 
gust of life, noisily cheerful because of his profound melancholy 
and distractedness, mordant and vicious from love of humanity 
and overflowing heart, madly foolish through the clearest co mm on 
sense. 

At that time, as we have already observed, the North, espe¬ 
cially Germany, still possessed a most plebeian character. Machia- 
velli in his account of Germany in 1508 said that the Germans 
did not build, and spent nothing on dress or on furnishing their 
houses, and that all they cared about was to have an abundance 
of bread and meat and a well-heated room. Erasmus gives the 
following vivid pictures of German inns: “ No one welcomes you 
on your arrival, lest they should seem to be eager after guests, for 
that they regard as mean and despicable and unworthy of Ger¬ 
man seriousness. When you have cried yourself hoarse before the 
door, a head will at last poke out from one of the little windows, 
like a tortoise’s . . . and you will have to ask this protruding face 
if you can come in. If he does not turn you away, you are to un¬ 
derstand that there is room for you. Your question as to stabling 
is answered with a wave of the hand, and you can treat your 
horses as you please, for no servant will put a hand to them. . . . 
When you have seen to your horse, you betake yourself as you are 
into the public room, boots, luggage, dirt, and all. This heated 
room is the common property of all the guests — a separate room 
in which to change your clothes, to wash, warm yourself, or rest 
is something that you never find here. . . . Thus you often have 
eighty or ninety guests together, travellers on foot or horseback, 
merchants, sailors, carriers, peasants, boys, women, the healthy, 
and the sick. One may be combing his hair, another be washing 
the sweat off, another cleaning up his shoes or riding-boots. . 

It is an essential of good inn-management that everyone should 
be dripping with sweat. If anyone, unused to such a steamy at¬ 
mosphere, opens a window a crack, there is a shout of “ shut 
it. • . . At last, they serve the wine, which is uncommonly sour; 
and if one of the guests takes it into his head to ask for a different 
kind for his money, they pretend at first not to hear him, but with 

276 



an expression on their face like murder. If the request is re¬ 
peated, he is told that “ dukes and margraves have put up at this 
house and no one has yet made any difficulty about the wine, and 
if it does not please thee, thou canst find another inn.” (for in 
their view only the nobility are human beings). . . . Soon the 
dishes appear with a great to-do. The first is almost a meat-broth 
with slices of bread, and this is followed by some hashed or pickled 
meat or salt fish. . . . Then a somewhat better wine is brought 
in, and it is marvellous what shouting and uproar goes on when 
the heads have been warmed by it. No one understands another. 
Often clowns and buffoons join in the confusion, and it is in¬ 
describable what delight the Germans take in these people, who 
produce such a tumult by their shouting, their leaping and cudg¬ 
elling, that the room threatens to collapse. ... If any journey- 
weary traveller wants to go to bed immediately after the meal, 
he is told he can wait until the rest retire. Then he is shown his 
niche; and that, too, is no more than a bed, for, apart from the 
bed itself, there is nothing one can use, since the sheets had their 
last wash probably six months ago.” 

If we bear in mind that the condition of the inns gives a pretty 
good picture of the material civilization prevailing at any time, 
and that not only the lower classes, but the elite frequented these 
taverns, we realize that the Germans of the period were still ut¬ 
terly wanting in delicacy and refinement of living. The quantity 
of food that was consumed, on the other hand, was certainly above 
that of the present day. We are told, for instance, that workmen in 
Saxony were specially instructed to enjoy two good meals daily, 
each consisting of two kinds of meat and two vegetables. A pound 
of sausages cost a farthing, a pound of beef a halfpenny, while 
the average daily wage of an ordinary workman was fourpence 
halfpenny. If in certain districts the poor cannot afford meat for 
a whole week, it is always commented on with astonishment. 
Thus we may say generally that the sixteenth century in Ger¬ 
many was the classic age of gluttony and immoderate drinking. 
Luther himself, we are told, occasionally exceeded in this respect, 
and evangelicals on the whole had the reputation of being par¬ 
ticularly good eaters and drinkers. A dinner given by the Niirn- 
berg doctor Christopher Scheurl in honour of Melanchthon had 
the following dishes: Pig’s head and sirloin with a sharp sauce ; 

277 


The Class 
Age c 
repletk 



trout and grayling; five partridges, eight other game-birds, and 
a capon; pike in aspic; wild boar in pepper sauce; cheese-cakes 
and fruit; pistachio nuts and medicinal syrup; gingerbread and 
sweets. This mass of fish, pork, fowl, and sweets was consumed 
by a gathering of only twelve people, who in addition drank as 
much as five pints of wine apiece. Many of the nobility are said 
to have been drunk daily, and the same is true of most of the 
citizens, soldiers, and peasants; while women, even of the highest 
classes, had a passion for alcohol. Till then weakly brewed beer 
and thin wine had been enough, but now it was heavy beers and 
high-grade wines that were fancied. In the middle of the century 
brandy began to be popular, and even though it was not yet a 
general drink (being so expensive) it was very eagerly sought 
after. Societies were founded to enforce moderation, and laws 
were passed against drunkenness, but without result. We can see 
what men achieved at their meals from a contemporary descrip¬ 
tion of the Tirolese spas: “ At six in the morning, before the bath, 
poached eggs and cream soup; between seven and eight a dish of 
eggs or milk pudding, together with wine; at nine you sit down to 
pancakes and small fish or crabs, with something to drink. Be¬ 
tween ten and eleven comes the midday meal, of five to seven 
courses. A walk till two o’clock and then before the bath a dish 
of dumplings and a chicken pasty. Between three and four in the 
afternoon either boiled eggs or a chicken. For the evening meal 
four or five substantial dishes; at eight, before retiring, a jelly 
and a dish of wine, with bread, spice, and sugar.” In addition 
there was the afternoon “ Jause” consisting, according to the 
same authority, of lettuce and butter, hard-boiled eggs, roast 
chicken, fish, pancakes, and plenty of wine. These people, there¬ 
fore, ate almost uninterruptedly, though how they managed to 
bathe on top of it all is a mystery. 

As for what we call morality, there is a certain improvement 
in comparison with the conditions of the incubation period. 
Brothels become less common, bath-houses gradually grow ob¬ 
solete, sexual intercourse is less unbridled and shameless; but 
these changes are probably due to two causes beyond regular 
morality, the rise of syphilis and the hypocrisy of Protestantism. 
Manners, however, are almost coarser than before: it is not un¬ 
known even in princely circles for husbands to beat their wives; 

278 



the rod plays the most important part in children’s education; 
rudeness and filthiness are the chief constituents in conversation 
and the forms of social intercourse. Even in castles the fireplace 
was regularly used as a urinal, and Erasmus warns the reader, in 
his pamphlet On Politeness in Society , to drown the noise of 
“ reaching ” by a cough. 

Costume changes, too, in the North, though the imposing 
majesty of Italian dress is replaced here by a broad-beamed, un¬ 
gainly, flat-footed massiveness, by the sort of dignity proper to 
pedagogues, parsons, and princelets. It is, in fact, no native 
growth, but an imported and conscious mannerism. People as¬ 
sume the air of having some importance without having any; 
the naturalness which is the hall-mark of a spiritual and physical 
nobility is lacking. The Northerner feels his period costume 
literally as a costume, a wardrobe of theatrical disguises which he 
wears with an emphatic and exaggerated aplomb, but yet with 
embarrassment, uncertainty, and a touch of stage-fever. He wants 
to make it quite clear at any cost what an important part he has 
to play, but with the result that he is really only playing a part. 
Almost all the pictures show us this solemn creasing and folding 
in dress and expression, this boorish decorativeness and Sunday- 
bestness, and we can see it most definitely in Lucas Cranach’s 
square, puffed-up, pompous figures, posed as if by the suburban 
photographer. 

The “ individualism ” of the Renaissance expressed itself in 
the preference for a lighter, more airy dress, in which it was pos¬ 
sible to move freely and comfortably. The old over-tight hose 
which fitted closely to the leg, was replaced by exaggerated pan¬ 
taloons, which tumbled with their vast masses of stuff from the 
waist to the shoe; later the stocking, as it were, split off. In foot¬ 
wear we have the same shift from one extreme to the other, and 
in place of the grotesquely long, turned-up points at the end, we 
now have the abbreviated wide and blunt “ cow-mouths.” It is 
significant that the general standard of fashion was set by the 
German landsknecht, the coarsest and most unrefined class of 
the whole period. And with him, too, originated the slitting of 
clothing which was the chief characteristic of Northern Renais¬ 
sance costume. Doublet, sleeves, breeches, hats, shoes, all had to 
be slashed, to reveal the underlying material, which thus became 

279 


The lands 
knech 
styl 



the most important element. In women’s attire Protestant prud¬ 
ery asserted itself in the avoidance of bare shoulders and breasts 
and the extension of the chemise, and later the whole dress, right 
up to the neck. Both sexes favoured the puff sleeves and the bi- 
retta, decorated at first with only a single plume, later with a 
whole forest of ostrich-feathers. Cloaks and overcoats were most 
commonly made of siatin, velvet, or gold brocade; edging with fur 
was universal, even with peasants. Humanists, poets, and clergy 
were usually clean-shaven, while the rest of the world favoured 
the close-cut beard, the hair well brushed and short. Girls had 
long plaits, older women covered their hair with a gold net. On 
the one hand, there is a squareness, exactness, an emphasis on 
honourableness about the whole attire; on the other, an im¬ 
moderate complexity and lack of balance; it is the notorious 
“ German Renaissance,” which, it will be remembered, celebrated 
a revival in the seventies and eighties of the last century — this 
peculiar mixture of the bourgeois and the fantastic, of over¬ 
decoration and clumsiness; this life-style made up of twists and 
turns, of dullness and dreaminess, this finicking, bloated, florid, 
ornament-loving thing which our grandfathers took to be the 
basic idea of the Romantic, the fantastic monster which Fischart 
castigated, and to which Diirer himself, the genius of the age, 
admitted that he had done too much homage. And indeed it is 
manifestly his love of complexity and intricacy, thickets and un¬ 
dergrowth, that led him to choose as the subject of his master¬ 
piece the Apocalypse, and to try to translate into the language of 
visible pictures the most impenetrable book of the Bible, perhaps 
of all literature. And who but a contemporary and fellow-worker 
of the German Renaissance could have succeeded in this almost 
insoluble problem? 

Hegemony The whole of German sixteenth-century art is marked by a 
era t art toy-like and play-room character, a childish and childlike qual¬ 
ity ; a sort of gingerbread style. The centre of poetry and of sculp¬ 
ture was Niirnberg, which is still the classic home of toys and 
cakes. A touching Christmas-present effect is common to all the 
creations of this age; there is no sense of strictness and necessity, 
moderation and limit, dignity and simplicity, but there is the 
compensation of a delightful naivete which elsewhere is in process 
of vanishing. Art still has the quality of a Christmas-eve celebra- 

280 



tion, full of mystery and approached with reverence, and it is all 
the more a fascinating plaything because hand craftsmanship is 
still its predominant characteristic. For instance, in the “ House 
of the Knight at Schaffhausen: what child, even today, would 
not feel it his most passionate wish to be able to possess such a 
delightfully painted little dwelling? 

In all departments of art it is the attitude of the craftsman 
that predominates, alike in its external and its inner tendency, 
associated with a love of the trivial, the petty, the bric-a-brac. As 
we have already said, the greatness of Italian art, even in that High 
Renaissance, which in our view is a period of decadence, lay in 
its gift of light-filled composition, its virtuoso’s command of pro¬ 
portion, its supreme feeling for rhythm, harmony, measure, and 
metre. This sense for clear, finely considered, and sharply defined 
form pervades all expressions of life and art, paintings and cloth¬ 
ing, monuments, coins, gestures, and implements. Every cup¬ 
board even, every fireplace, every coffer, is at bottom a well- 
articulated structure. But of the German Renaissance the 
opposite would be more or less true; even the most monumental 
and wide-spreading building is thought out on the model of a 
delicate piece of furniture, an objet d’art, or a subordinate 
detail. In the one case every ornament is architecture, born 
from an architectural feeling; in the other all architecture is 
ornamental, born from the passion for ornament. In everything, 
down to their smallest work, the Italians had a feeling for com¬ 
position, while the Germans were goldsmiths, filigree-makers, 
decorative plasterers. Even Diirer is fundamentally a draughts¬ 
man and is greatest in the smallest work, in illustrations, etchings, 
engravings, and odd sketches. Yet never perhaps has craftsman¬ 
ship produced such well-rounded, subtle, and forceful works; 
engravers, printers, jewellers, ivory-workers, carpenters, wood¬ 
workers, copper-smiths, armourers, are the glory of the age, and 
all the articles of everyday life bore an aesthetic imprint — foun¬ 
tains, altar-vessels, weather-vanes, gargoyles, candlesticks, rail¬ 
ings, even the very cannon, were works of art. 

Nor had art yet split off from everyday life as a separate 
activity. Most of the poets and sculptors had some occupation of 
consequence as citizens. Lucas Cranach was printer and apothe¬ 
cary, Sebastian Franck a soap-boiler, Hans Sachs a “ shoemaker 



The 

Witches* 

Hammer 


and poet also ”—poetry being obviously the side-line. All the 
same, it is a master’s ability, craftsmanship in the best sense, that 
marks all their works and their honest, straightforward decorative 
printing is wholly in harmony with contemporary work in the plas¬ 
tic art. Every solid, expert piece of work possesses something which 
rouses our respect and even our wonder. To create a cup, a coat, 
or a cupboard really well one must have a certain moral quality: 
respect for the God-created material, self-discipline, devotion to 
the task, sense of the essential. A master is a fine thing whether he 
builds a clock or a cathedral; and there can be no doubt that even 
Hans Sachs’s shoes, though none of them have come down to 
us, were as excellently worked and as universally treasured as his 
Shrovetide plays. 

In music, too, the products are chiefly those of craftsmanship, 
and what they disclose is not so much original composition as the 
improvement of musical instruments; at the beginning of the cen¬ 
tury bassoon and spinet come into use and the invention of the 
bridge, which makes it possible to use each of the three strings 
individually, points for the first time to the ultimate significance 
of the violin. 

On the other hand, errors of taste and even gross lack of flair 
are not infrequent in this craftsmanlike — that is to say, banausic 
— art. They are displayed in (to name only a few instances) the 
abuse of language, by wild perversions and mis-shapen innova¬ 
tions, which are meant to be original and effective, but only suc¬ 
ceed in being cacophonous and silly; in the aforementioned pas¬ 
sion for expressions and similes from the department of excreta, 
which often becomes mere coprolalia; by the lack of sureness in 
sensing the relation between form and material (for example, in 
the transference of metal technique to architectural ornamenta¬ 
tion, so that we seem to be looking at plate-work cut in stone); 
by the coarseness of the allegorical paintings, of which Lucas 
Cranach’s Weimar altar-piece is the most notorious instance, 
where he himself, standing between Luther and John the Baptist, 
is smitten by a blood ray from the heart of the crucified Saviour. 

Law too was as barbaric as ever, and superstition had rather 
gained than lost force through the Reformation. Till then only 
Jews, Turks, and magicians had been counted as disciples of the 
Devil, but now the whole world was diabolized: the pope was 

282 



Antichrist, every Papist a son of Satan, while Catholics for their 
part saw in Luther and his adherents the servants of hell. In ad¬ 
dition Protestantism had increased the consciousness of sin; no 
one could know if he was justified. Works were of no value; yet 
faith was rather an unending task imposed on the human soul 
than a pillar of certainty. In Calvinism, with its rigid dogma of 
predestination, no one could say whether he was among the fore- 
chosen or among those eternally fore-doomed. Luther used to de¬ 
clare about Doctor Kck, and many more of his opponents, that 
they had signed a pact with the Devil, and the Breslau Doctor 
John Cochlams asserted in his biography of Luther — appearing 
only three years after his death — that he was the son of the 
adulterous union of the Devil with Margaret Luther. It is the 
fashion now to doubt whether Luther ever hurled his ink-bottle at 
the Devil on the Wartburg, but it is quite obvious from innumer¬ 
able remarks of his that he pictured the world as full of devils, and 
in the same way he believed in the Devil’s harlots, the witches, 
whom he cursed and threatened from his pulpit. But in that 
as in everything else he was only the true son of his times. For 
just then, when faith in Christian doctrine was riven asunder 
and began to crumble, there was a recrudescence in the depth 
of men’s souls of an obscure and terrifying undercurrent of 
paganism. 

Belief in witches is to be found among the Persians, in the Old 
Testament, in Greek and Roman mythology, and in some form 
perhaps in every religion. In the Middle Ages, however, the burn¬ 
ing of witches had been rare: it was then still regarded as human 
sacrifice, and Charlemagne forbade it. In Italy during the Renais¬ 
sance there was a special witches’ tract at Norcia, which proved 
attractive to foreigners, and the witch, the strega, with her art of 
stregheria, received almost official recognition and was persecuted 
only in exceptional cases. It was only towards the end of the 
fifteenth century that this witch-mania, beginning in the North¬ 
ern lands, became a scourge of humanity. The decisive date is 
1487, the year of publication by the two papal inquisitors Henry 
Institor and Jacob Sprenger of the notorious Malleus malefi- 
carum; a work in which witchery, if one may say so, is handled 
in a spirit of technology and scientific system. In the first part of 
the work various questions are put, answered, and elaborately 



Witch>- 
nania and 
; psycho¬ 
analysis 


discussed, as, for instance: Is there a black art? Does the Devil co¬ 
operate with witches? Can men be procreated by incubi (that is, 
devils who “ lie upon ” women in the form of men) and succubi 
(that is, devils who lie under men in the form of women) ? Can 
black magic drive men to love or hate ? Can the black art obstruct 
the marriage act? Can witches treat the membrum virile by magic 
so as to separate it from the body? Can witches turn men into 
animals? The second part treats more of details; for instance, 
how witches raise thunder-storms and hail-storms, how they rob 
cows of their milk, how they make fowls egg-bound, how they pro¬ 
duce abortion, how they cause illness in cattle, how they produce 
frenzy, how they maim limbs by “ witches’ darts,” why they 
especially love to kill unbaptized children (the answer to this last 
being that such cannot enter into heaven, and as the kingdom of 
God and the overthrow of the Devil can only be fulfilled when a 
definite number of the blessed is in heaven, the murder of newly 
born children postpones that time). 

Witches were assumed to meet on special dates, above all on 
the eve of May I, Walpurgis Night, when they flew on broom¬ 
sticks or he-goats to certain infamous hills, to worship their mas¬ 
ter by dances and kisses on his genitals or hind quarters (the 
Devil repaying this court by breaking wind upon them) and then 
to take their pleasure with devil-lovers in extravagant feasting 
and wild orgies. The ordeal of witches consisted usually in lay¬ 
ing the accused, tightly bound, on the surface of some water and 
condemning any who remained afloat. Any outstanding quality — 
good and bad eminence, physical defects and rare beauty, alike 
— might lead to suspicion of witchcraft. Gradually men became 
habituated to torturing for a confession, and the vicious circle en¬ 
closed them, for, of course, these methods produced numerous 
proofs of witchcraft, and then increasing fear led to further ac¬ 
cusations and trials. Even if avarice and revenge occasionally 
played some part, there can be no doubt that most of the judges 
acted in entire honesty, just as a lawyer of today feels himself to 
be a guardian of law and morality in obtaining the conviction of 
prisoners for crimes, the punishing of which will seem quite un¬ 
intelligible to future ages. Protestantism became quite as fanati¬ 
cal as Catholicism (though German historians of a liberal and 
nationalist tendency like to gloss over the fact), the most blatant 



instance being probably the learned propaganda work of Graf 
Hoensbroecli, Das Papsttum in seiner sozial-kulturellen Wirk- 
samkeit (The Papacy in its Sociological Aspect), in which the 
misdeeds of the Roman Inquisition are treated at great length 
and in the sternest spirit of description; while there is not a word 
about the Protestant persecution of witches. The fact is that it 
was a universal disease of the time, common to the learned and the 
lower classes, to papists and reformers, princes and subjects, ac¬ 
cusers and inquisitors, not to mention the witches themselves, for 
many of the victims believed themselves guilty. Even a genius of 
the quality of Kepler, who can hardly be said to have lacked the gift 
of scientific thought, maintained that it was impossible to deny 
witchcraft, and it was a serious enough matter for him, for one 
of his relatives was burnt as a witch, and his mother was many 
times in danger of the same fate. The whole question of witch¬ 
craft is probably the result of a mass-psychosis due to repressed 
sexuality, manifesting itself in the form of gynophobia; and 
psychoanalysis, which so often occupies itself with unprofitable 
trivialities, might do well to investigate the whole problem to its 
foundations, for it would find valuable hints in the Witches’ 
Hammer. The question why the black art is more widespread 
among women than men is answered as follows: “ What is woman 
other than the ruin of friendship, an inescapable punishment, a 
necessary disaster, a fascinating evil, a natural temptation, a 
domestic peril, a desirable danger, a universal evil in fine col¬ 
ours ? ” What emerges here is that deep fear of man in face of his 
mysterious companion, the appalling sensation of the unavoidable 
sinfulness and unseen corruption that lies at the back of sexual 
intercourse, the dark fearful maelstrom which blindly and eagerly 
gathers into itself all the many deeds and miseries, dreams and 
passions, of erring humanity. From the witch-madness of the Ref¬ 
ormation period it is a long line, but a straight line, that leads to 
Strindberg. It is clear from the few quotations from the Malleus 
which we have given that the problem was not a religious, but a 
sexual one under religious disguise; in most of them we see a 
subterranean fantasy, completely unrestrained and emphasized by 
its religious veneer of sexual unsatisfaction or impotence, saty¬ 
riasis or perversity. This effusion of sex-hatred in such dread 
ful and grotesque forms was one of the consequences of the 

285 



much-lauded “ liberation of the individual ” by the Renaissance 
and Reformation. 

•cuiariza- In conclusion we must answer the question as a whole: What, 
then, taking all in all, must we conclude was the importance of the 
Reformation for European civilization? It signifies no more, no 
less, than the attempted secularization of all the life, thought, and 
faith of mankind. It introduces into all spheres a superficial prac¬ 
ticality, a dull utilitarianism, material, gloomy, insipid, ordinary; 
in its futile, short-sighted rationalism it denied, deliberately and in¬ 
tentionally, a whole set of higher activities which had hitherto 
flowed from religion and which from the mere standpoint of prac¬ 
tical efficiency may be hard to justify—for instance, “ barren ” 
asceticism, not merely the asceticism that flees from the world and 
hates it, but its highest form, the franchise of the universe; “ un¬ 
natural ” celibacy, “ meaningless ” pilgrimages, “ superfluous ” 
splendour of ceremonial, “ useless ” monasteries, “ ridiculous ” 
carnivals, “ waste of time ” in feast-days, “ superstitious ” adora¬ 
tion of the saints, who had accompanied man through the daily 
round, shedding light about him and helping him as God’s friendly 
staff of assistants; “ unjustifiable ” charity to the poor, which gives 
for the sake of giving, without inquiring too much about worthi¬ 
ness and need. All childlike qualities vanish from life, which be¬ 
comes logical, systematic, just, and efficient, or, in other words, 
unendurable. 

It must be repeated that to many, though not to all, of these 
things Luther’s attitude was still mediaeval. His greatness, in fact, 
lay precisely in this, that he always felt the Reformation as some¬ 
thing religious, never political, social, or “ organizatory.” It must 
be admitted, all the same, that partly through pressure of popular 
opinion, partly through his stubborn opposition on principle to 

anything Catholic, he approved or at least admitted all these 
changes. 

The Reformation in the first place sanctifies work; in the 
second, a man’s profession and thus indirectly the money which 
proceeds therefrom; thirdly, marriage and the family; lastly, the 
State. Superficially, it put the last of these lower than the Middle 
Ages had done, by splitting State from Church, but this actually 
made it more important, because the State gained thereby a basis 
of its own for its sovereignty. Exemption — that is, emancipation 

286 



of State from Church — thus created that scourge of the modern, 
age, the supreme State, which has a fiscal system to claim the 
citizen’s property, an omnipresent police system to restrict his 
liberty, and a militarism to demand his life. There can be no 
doubt that the clear distinction between temporals and spirituals 
which Luther aimed at was intended to emancipate religion; but 
the opposite resulted, for while Protestant rulers got away from 
the dominion of the pope, they regarded themselves as masters 
of the churches in their own land and behaved, as guardians of 
their subjects, in exactly the same way as Rome had done. But in¬ 
stead of one vicar of Christ who prescribes to men their relation 
to God, there were now several such vicars, far less competent and, 
by reason of their more limited sphere of action, far less respon¬ 
sible. That was the whole difference. In the most flagrant oppo¬ 
sition to the tendency that had begotten it Protestantism, in 
almost all the countries in which it was victorious, developed a 
system of the stiffest. intolerance, which grew up out of the pref¬ 
erential treatment accorded to the State’s Church; for the State 
— from its very nature — is the most intolerant creation there 
can be. 

As for marriage, Luther regarded it as a mere concession to the 
flesh and obviously did not set any high value on it. He himself 
married, not from any real internal compulsion, but to set a 
liberal example and to annoy the Catholics; it is illuminating that 
he chose a nun for his wife. But in the simple Kate he was marry¬ 
ing, emphatically, nothing but a housekeeper; indeed, this was 
his real view of women: “ If we had not this race of women, 
the household economy and everything concerned with it would 
simply fall to pieces.” On the other hand, in 1521, in the middle 
of his fight for the faith, he writes enthusiastically about the rise 
of crassly material culture which marked the period: “ Whoever 
reads these chronicles will find that from the birth of Christ on, 
the whole story of the world in these hundreds of years is un¬ 
paralleled, in every way. Such building and planting have never 
been in the whole world, such fine and varied eating and drink¬ 
ing never so common as they are now. Clothing, too, has become 
so splendid that it cannot become finer. Who, moreover, has 
ever seen such trading as now journeys round and swallows 
up the whole world? ” There is, in fact, a priori , a subterranean 



The anti¬ 
evangelical 
Evangelical 


relationship between the Protestant and the Capitalist attitudes 
to things, though it only comes right to the surface in English 
Puritanism. The spiritual father of this union of Bourse and Bible 
was Calvin, who bitterly opposed the canonical veto of usury; 
even Luther had said in answer to questioning on this point that 
“ a bit of usury ” was permissible. 

Luther too, as Hans Sperber has pointed out, is responsible for 
the change in the meaning of the word “ Beruf ” (profession, vo¬ 
cation), which until his day really meant a “ calling ”; it is in his 
works that it has for the first time its present-day meaning of 
manual and specialized occupation, and he saw in the practice of 
industrial occupations — which the Classical age had regarded as 
degrading and banausic, and the Middle Ages as profane and un¬ 
godly— a divine moral mission. Till his day work had been re¬ 
garded as a penalty, at best a necessary evil; but henceforward it 
is elevated and even sanctified. This attitude, first brought into 
the world by Protestantism, leads in a direct line to Capitalism 
and Marxism, the two most powerful darkeners of Europe, each 
of which, though with contradictory aims, has the same ethical 
and social foundations as the other. 

It is very noteworthy that the Reformation, which professed 
to be a return to the pure word of the Bible, was in all these points 
in the sharpest opposition to the Bible. At the very beginning of 
the Old Testament the Lord said to Adam: “ Because thou hast 
hearkened unto the voice of thy wife and hast eaten of the tree of 
which I commanded thee, saying: £ Thou shalt not eat of it,’ 
cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all 
the days of thy life ... in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat 
bread.” Of the holiness and blessedness of work there is not a 
word here; rather, Adam is cursed to work, the worst punishment 
which God, who is still a God of vengeance, could conceive for the 
sin of the first man. The New Testament teaches in almost every 
line the blessedness and godliness of doing nothing. Christ Him¬ 
self never did any work, nor His apostles and companions; Peter 
and Matthew were taken away from their work — in fact, their 
Master warns them specifically against work: “ Behold the fowls 
of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into 
bams; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much 
better than they? . . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they 


.no 



grow, they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you 
that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of 
these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which 
today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much 
more clothe you, O ye of little faith ? ” 

This explains with perfect clearness the attitude which Jesus 
took to the social Question. It is true that He preferred the 
poor to the rich and said that a rich man could not enter the king¬ 
dom of Heaven; but this saying has no socialistic application. The 
poor are more likely to enter the kingdom of Heaven than the rich 
because the conditions for a godly life, turned away from Mam¬ 
mon, are more favourable in them. A rich man, whether he means 
it or not, must occupy himself with his earthly goods, while the 
poor man is in the fortunate position of not owning things which 
might turn him from God. Socialism, on the contrary, aims at 
gradually putting the poor into the advantageous place at present 
occupied by the rich and insists that every man, rich or poor, 
should work. But Jesus sets before man the example of the lilies 
in the field and the sparrows on the housetop, for He knows that 
in the blessing of work a secret curse lies hidden, the greed of gold, 
of power and materialism. Socialism aims at m akin g the poor 
rich, Jesus aims to make the rich poor. Socialism envies the rich, 
Jesus pities them. Socialism aims at the largest number of 
workers and possessors possible, Jesus looks to an ideal state 
when no one works or owns anything. Thus Jesus’ attitude to the 
social question is that He simply disregards it: to Him things like 
the distribution of wealth, property, the just ordering of indus¬ 
trial conditions, are what the Stoics called an “ adiaphoron ” and 
the mathematicians a “ quantite neglige able “: they do not con¬ 
cern Him. His mission as He sees it is to lead man to the divine, 
while the mind of a social reformer is ever set on this world. 
Hence it is the greatest blasphemy against Christ that is possible, 
to put Him on a level with those dwarf-souls that want to redeem 
man by economic means; He differs from them all, not in degree, 
but in kind. His good deeds were spiritual, not material, and it is 
as little reasonable to compare Him with such people as to com¬ 
pare, say, the creations of Plato or Dante with those of Marconi 
or Edison. Jesus never strove against the powers which are the 
target in modern social polemics, such as the bourgeoisie, 


Jesus a 
the (< soc 
question 



bureaucracy, capitalism, and the like, because these things were 
all far too indifferent to Him. His one enemy was the devil in 
man, materialism. Our enlightened age does not believe in the 
Devil, because it has fallen so near to him that it can no longer see 
him, and the “ spirit ” of materialism is as predominant among • 
the poor as among the rich. The rich have wealth, the poor not 
yet; but wealth is, in the one case as in the other, the essential 
aim. Jesus would no longer be able to say: “ Blessed are the 
poor,” since today the poor are as unblessed as the rich — thanks 
to the socialistic theories which the degenerate superficiality of our 
days has read into His sayings. 

Similar is Jesus’ attitude to the State. He said, it is true: 

“ Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” but the com¬ 
mand arises from a deep contempt for the earth and all earthly 
ordinances. He recommends the placid payment of taxes because 
it is not worth while to refuse, for the children of God are con¬ 
cerned with other and higher things than such mean political 
arrangements. Only an ear very insensitive to shades and under¬ 
tones could miss the bitter irony with which Jesus speaks when¬ 
ever He touches these questions. There is an equally ironical note 
in His answer to Pilate’s question: “ Art Thou the king of the 
Jews? “Thou sayest it.” Obviously He feels it unworthy of 
Himself to discuss such miserable misunderstanding at all; ac¬ 
cording to John, however, He does explain to the governor, 
briefly, that He is in truth a king — but a very different one from 
any that the vulgar understanding of the Jewish hierarchy can 
conceive. 

The consistent attitude of Christ is simply that He regards 
everything created by man as insignificant to the point of ridicu¬ 
lousness. That, too, is His view of marriage and the family; or, 
more accurately, he rejects them both, but ever in the same 
mild, tolerant tone which points to the right path as an ideal for 
all without wishing-to enforce it on those who are not ripe for it. 
The words of Jesus to His mother: “Woman, what is there be¬ 
tween me and thee ? ” spoken more in astonishment than in 
anger, is an appalling source of confusion to the ordinary theo¬ 
logian, who passes it by with a few meaningless platitudes. When 
He is told that His mother and brethren seek to speak with Him, 
He answers, according to Matthew: “Who is my mother, and 



who are my brethren ? ” and, stretching His hand towards His 
disciples: “ See here my mother and my brothers.” Equally clear 
is His warning“ Whoever comes to me and hates not father, 
mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, even his own life, he 
cannot be my disciple.” ’ 

To every one of us who can read them with sound reason and 
unconfused sensibility, the Gospels are quite unambiguous as to 
the true Christian view of all these things. Ministers, who do not 
fall short of the rabbis in Talmudism, naturally try to turn all 
these expressions, to rub them down and comment them into 
meaning their opposite. and, in fact, it is possible to read into the 
Bible what one will, if one lacks the necessary honesty and sim¬ 
plicity. Thus Bernhardi, one of the finest writers on strategy, but 
not on the same level as an interpreter of the Bible, tried to prove 
in one of his works that Christ had preached war, for He said: 

I am come to bring not peace, but a sword —an assertion 
hardly worth the pains of answering. 

God and the soul are the only realities, and the world is the 
unreal —that is the “glad tidings” of Jesus. True Christianity 
never tries to perfect the world, either socially, politically, or 
economically, or even morally; for it grants it no validity—in¬ 
deed, does not notice it at all. A justly ordered society, a life ad¬ 
justed to the “general good”—these and similar ideals have 
nothing to do with the saving of the soul. This is the fundamental 
difference between Christianity and the two other monotheistic 
religions; it is neither superficially organizatory like Jewish 
morality, nor barbarically world-conquering like Islam; it is not 
the amelioration of the world in any way, be it never so noble or 
prudent, but liberation from the world with all its evil and good, 
harmful and beneficent forces. It concerns itself always with the 
individual soul, never with general well-being, progress, success 
of the species, and suchlike lower things. If we judge the Refor¬ 
mation, then, without prejudice, not as to what it aimed at in 
theory, but as to what it became in actual fact and historical 
reality, we must admit that it signified a relapse into the two other 
monotheistic creeds: in Lutheranism it became Mosaic morality, 
in Puritanism Mohammedan imperialism, and thus represents, 
in its two chief forms, the absolute reversal and negation of the 
original meaning of Christian gospel. For this had no purpose of 


God at 
the so 



Holy 

idleness 


reforming anything: there was no room in it for so shallow an 
idea. The Reformation is nothing but a deeply irreligious attempt 
to renew religion — though it is fair to add that in this it only fol¬ 
lowed the trend of the times — and therefore could do nothing else 
but move away from real religion. Even the Counter-Reformation 
is only an attempt to re-Catholicize the world by the same instru¬ 
ments as those which Protestantism employed. The “ pagan ” 
Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation 
have all the same basic meaning: they lead away from God. 

The consecration of earthly life which was accomplished by 
the Reformation was, in its way, undeniably an act of liberation, 
but it was to an equal degree a desecration, futilization, and 
emptying. The sanctification of everyday life, lock, stock, and 
barrel, leaves no room for the noble, sublime, even heroic dualism 
which was the essential idea of the Middle Ages. Such a religious 
attitude, if we disregard the great personal piety of its founder, is 
in obvious danger of ending in Philistinism, of becoming the 
favourite creed of the bourgeoisie, which in the name of God and 
to the honour of God mines coal, begets children, and draws up 
balance-sheets. The greater truth that State, economics, profes¬ 
sion, industry, society, and family are unholy things is likely to 
vanish from sight. And it did so vanish in fact. 

There is an old Jewish story, not included in the Bible, ac¬ 
cording to which not only Cain, but his brother Abel also roused 
the ill-will of God, “ for he beheld the glory of God more than was 
lawful ” in idle contemplation. The God of the Jews, quite natu¬ 
rally, was jealous, but at bottom Abel was the first poet and also 
the first “ homo religiosus” The Christian answer, at any rate, to 
the question of which is better, action or contemplation, work or 
idleness, is answered clearly in the story of Martha and Mary. 
Mary sat at the feet of the Lord and listened to His words, but 
Martha was dragged away by many occupations. And she said to 
the Lord: “ Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath let me 
serve alone? Bid her, therefore, to help me.” But the Lord said: 
“ Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many 
things; but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good 
part, which shall not be taken away from her.” 

All work has the great drawback that it diverts man, divides 
him, separates him from himself. Therefore all saints, founders of 


202 



religion, all men who stood very near to God, were wont to flee 
into the solitude. What did they there? Nothing. But this doing 
nothing contained far more life and inner activity than all the 
doings of others. The greatest man is always he who can be a 
mirror — no trembling, clouded, ever-moving mirror, but a clear, 
clean, quiet one which can take all the divine light to itself. 
Blessed are the idle, for they shall see the glory of God; blessed 
are the hours of idleness, for in them our soul is at work. 


293 



CHAPTER VII 


The earthly 
hell 


THE NIGHT OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW 

<( The truth is: we must be miserable and are . 
But the chief source of this vital ill which 
assails mankind is man himself: u homo 
homini litf usd 9 We mark this last clearly, we 
see the world as a hell, which surpasses Dante 3 s 
hell hi that each man must be the Devil to 
his neighbourP 

Schopenhauer 

We approach the blackest period of the European modern age, 
the period from the sixteenth century to the Thirty Years’ War, 
the time of the Wars of Religion, a Night of St. Bartholomew 
drawn out to almost a hundred years. If Christianity and war are 
in any case an irresolvable contradiction, the most grotesque 
climax of this fearful paradox, which has deliled the whole history 
of Christianity, was attained in a deceitfulness, cruelty, and inso¬ 
lence towards all laws of God and man, such as was never sur¬ 
passed by Tartars and Turks, Huns and Hottentots. For in these 
it is only a blind passion for destruction, but in the Christians 
of the Counter-Reformation age it is a complex system built on 
a basis of high intellectual refinement and a perfected technique 
of villainy. For three generations the most highly developed and 
civilized countries of Europe vied with each other in inhumanity 
and wallowed in a merciless passion for vengeance, a tricky 
viciousness, and every devilish instinct that the Saviour had 
taken up His cross to destroy. 

Of the two parties, however, it must be admitted that the 
Catholics were the worse in blackness. In the last chapter we have 
learnt something of the weaknesses and limitations of Protestant¬ 
ism and came to the conclusion that it was by no means (as it is 
so often confidently assumed) the definitely higher and more 
progressive form of Christian faith; but rather that, in many 
aspects, it actually represented a retrogression, as it became shal¬ 
lower, more material, and further removed from the original 


294 



doctrine of Christ. But in the opening period of the Counter- 
Reformation the opposite is the case; reason, morality, con¬ 
science, freedom, enlightenment, are all on the side of the heretics. 
Yet, even so, only relatively: since there is no question on either 
side of any real morality, spiritual reverence, sense of responsi¬ 
bility, or even freedom of thought. 

For politics, by their very nature, are inseparable from lies, 
stains, brutality, and selfishness, and at this time political degra¬ 
dation had reached its most appalling climax. Everywhere — in 
Spain, Italy, France, England, Scotland — we come upon master¬ 
pieces of callous villainy at the head of public affairs, unfeeling 
mass-murderers, having the ferocity of primitive man, but having 
also an icy calculating power, and thus deeper far in vileness than 
he. Alba is but the most comprehensive type for hundreds of simi¬ 
lar moral abortions, who suddenly appeared like some poisonous 
plant to pollute the soil of Europe. Even in the glorious England 
of Elizabeth the higher strata of society swarmed with hypocrit¬ 
ical, greedy brigands who stopped at no crime if it satisfied their 
thirst for power or possessions. The split in the Church had, on 
the whole, produced only negative results; it had merely shaken 
the faith in the authority of the divine canons, while as yet only a 
few enlightened minds saw glimmerings of a new ethic, founded 
on secular considerations of reason and fitness, which might take 
the place of the mediaeval. 

It is only with the Religious Peace of Augsburg, in 1555, 
which is quite unworthy of its title, that religious fanaticism let 
loose its destructive forces in full blast in both the camps. Indeed, 
the terms of the treaty contained the seeds of countless disputes 
and complications. The formula of “ cuius regio, eius religio” 
which conferred upon the ruler of the land the freedom to choose 
its religion and denied to others such freedom for themselves, was 
an appalling violation of the conscience of every subject, while 
the famous te reservatum ecclesiasticum” which declared that all 
ecclesiastical lords of the Empire who went over to Protestantism 
were to be deprived of office, lands, and revenues, led immediately 
upon its promulgation to embittered disputes and counter¬ 
declarations. Calvinists, moreover, were not included in the 
settlement at all, so that there were now three official religious 
parties, each struggling fiercely with the others. 


The coun¬ 
terstroke 


2QC 



The Council 
of Trent 


The Reformed Church was already more or less the official 
State religion in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland, 
Holland, North Germany, and the lands of the Teutonic Order; 
in Western Germany and the hereditary provinces of Austria, in 
Poland and Hungary, in Bavaria and Bohemia, it was, whether 
openly or secretly, the dominant faith, and all signs pointed to 
its victory in France and Italy as well. Everywhere, in the bishop¬ 
rics, the States of the Church, and even arch-clerical Spain, there 
were small groups of fiery Protestants. But nowhere, even in the 
most papist of lands, were there anything but lukewarm Cath¬ 
olics. The reformation of the whole of Europe seemed only a mat¬ 
ter of time. 

But precisely at this moment the Counter-Reformation got 
under way. Until then the Roman Church had been, on matters 
of religion, either wholly indifferent, or herself inclined to the 
Reform, or else swayed by purely political motives. It had been far 
more important for the Curia to prevent the house of Iiabsburg 
from becoming too powerful than to check the spread of some 
trivial heresy, which, so most people thought, would be as easily 
suppressible or assimilable as its predecessors; and thus on 
several occasions the remarkable spectacle was presented of the 
Pope using the Protestant movement, which was politically also 
a centrifugal agitation, as an instrument against the Emperor. 
Now, however, the enormous danger began to be realized, and 
Rome proved that she was still the strongest centre of force in 
Europe. 

The system devised by the Church to hold back the Reforma¬ 
tion movement was cleverly and ingeniously contrived, but was 
very ticklish and complicated to manage and therefore required 
leaders of unusual tact, insight, and power of judging men. And, 
in fact, such men were soon found. The plan, on the one hand, was 
to formulate the lines of belief with a hitherto unheard-of rigour, 
thus preventing any possibility of a gradual lapse into heresy; 
and, on the other, to secure within these limits the greatest elas¬ 
ticity, laxity, and modernness, so that freer impulses and demands 
suited to the time were not denied satisfaction. 

This clear definition of dogma was achieved in the first in¬ 
stance by the Council of Trent, which declared the right of the 
Church to the sole interpretation of the Bible, thus removing the 



root of heresy. On the difficult question of justification a half-way 
position was adopted between Augustinianism and Semi-Pelagian- 
ism: good works are necessary, but are made meritorious only by 
the grace of God. On the doctrine of the sacraments the full seven 
were strictly retained, on the ground that they had been instituted 
by Christ — any concessions on this point would have been dan¬ 
gerous. Similarly on the mass and transubstantiation the strictly 
orthodox standpoint was adhered to. The abuses of absolution 
were admitted and censured, but its redeeming efficacy was re¬ 
affirmed. On the whole, then, the Council of Trent is less an 
original codification of Catholic doctrine than an exact demarca¬ 
tion of frontiers between it and the new (especially the Lutheran) 
heresy. It is definite only in what it rejects; in its positive achieve¬ 
ments it is obviously — and entirely of intention — uncertain, 
ambiguous, faulty, elastic. Catholicism thus received an odour of 
arbitrariness and casuistry, it became pseudo-moral and secular; 
but at the same time it took on a character of liberality and sup¬ 
pleness, of accommodation to and friendliness towards the world, 
which it had hitherto not had. 

In any case the strict line which was now drawn between 
orthodoxy and heterodoxy was the signal for a militant and ag¬ 
gressive policy of reconquest to assert itself; and this date in fact 
marked the birth of a universal intolerance, exclusive and hate- 
inspired, such as had been seen but rarely in the first half of the 
century. Yet the Council was not the cause, rather it was one of 
the symptoms, of a general psychosis which was spreading to the 
adherents of all other creeds as well. 

As for Calvinism, it was compelled—if only by the extreme 
rigour with which it divided the world, through Predestination, 
into the elect and the damned — to deny all other creeds even the 
right to live. But the Lutherans too were zealous enough in their 
efforts to develop a system of the stiffest intolerance. Their dog¬ 
matic struggles were all the more ridiculous because they neither 
possessed nor, by their very nature, could possess any firm dogma. 
Melanchthon’s last words are said to have been a thanksgiving 
for his escape from the “rabies theologorum”; for even in his 
lifetime the Protestants had already split into orthodox Lu¬ 
therans and Melanchthonians, who under the name of Philip- 
pists (as they were called after Melanchthon’s Christian name) 


Pan-Eurt 
fean h 
tolerant 



were persecuted in Saxony as “ Crypto-Calvinists,” expelled from 
their offices, and not seldom banished or imprisoned. The sole 
guide of faith became the “ concordance formula,” a collection 
of anti-Philippist clauses which satisfied none and only occa¬ 
sioned fresh absurd disputes, so that it received the nickname of 
the “ discordance formula.” In the Palatinate, on the other hand, 
the “ Heidelberg Catechism ” set up Calvinism, and every 
preacher who refused to accept it was driven from the land. Yet 
even the Electorate of Saxony had no real solid basis of Luther¬ 
anism, for a change of ruler destroyed the “ concordance ” 
formulae and by the agency of the chancellor, Nicolas Crell, 
Philippism was set in their place. The succeeding regent, however, 
preferred the Lutheran creed; Crell was imprisoned and, after 
years of intrigue by his enemies (who went even to Catholics for 
support), beheaded. In the Palatinate such an official change of 
religion occurred four times, accompanied of course by incessant 
trickery and persecution of the unorthodox. It was not surprising, 
then, that clear-sighted men of the time said that the Reformation 
had introduced a more cruel tyranny of faith than had ever been 
known under the Papacy. 

Starting from Poland, established by Lselius and Faustus 
Sozzini, codified in the Catechism of Rakowa, Socinianism had 
some success. It was decidedly anti-Trinitarian, whence its ad¬ 
herents also called themselves Unitarians. They taught that 
Christ had not died for the sins of the world, but had only estab¬ 
lished a new morality and set up an example of the moral life. 
The Father alone, according to them, was God, and He raised 
his Son, after death, to the divine dignity as reward for his 
purity and obedience; and hence it was justifiable and even neces¬ 
sary to pray to both. Baptism and Communion they declared to 
be useful, but not absolutely necessary, institutions. Traditional 
doctrines of justification were refuted by an ingenious, though 
superficial, proof of the elder Sozzini, which has often been re¬ 
peated since — Christ could not have suffered as the representa¬ 
tive of the whole of humanity, since it is only possible to represent 
those over whom one has complete authority, but it was quite 
impossible for future generations to give Christ such authority; 
and, moreover, only money debts were transferable, not moral 
guilt and punishment. This purely juristic deduction was taken 





over by the famous legal scholar Hugo Grotius, though it is en¬ 
tirely without validity, since the juristic and the theological 
planes are wholly distinct from one another. But the mere pos¬ 
sibility of such argument emphasizes the evil consequences of the 
rationalization of the idea of punishment, which Paul derived 
partly from the ideas of Roman penal law, partly from Talmudic- 
dialectic analogies of his own age. 

Related to the Socmians and to Grotius were the Atwxvwici'yis 
or Remonstrants m Holland, who were opposed by the GoittctTio/rts 
or Contra-remonsti ants. The original issue was the doctrine of 
predestination: J acob Arminius and his followers declared that 
it referred to faith, since God in His all-wisdom had foreseen in 
each individual whether he would possess the faith or not; the 
Gomarians, on the other hand, attaching themselves to Francis 
Gomarus, asserted that the election was primary and faith only 
its effect. A man of ordinary common sense might fail to see the 
unbridgeable gulf between these two interpretations; yet for such 
dark controversies thousands were cruelly persecuted, an emi¬ 
nent statesman like Oldenbarneveldt executed, and Grotius con¬ 
demned to imprisonment for life — though he had the luck to 
escape. Such was the manner of theological dispute, even in the 
Netherlands, which were rightly famed as the freest land in 
Europe. 

In England, also, the result of the Reformation was a triple 
division of the Church. When Plenry VIII refused obedience to 
the pope — partly in order to seize the wealth of the Church, 
partly to have freedom to indulge his sadistic Bluebeard 
passions — he did not touch the Catholic hierarchy, or the 
Church dogmas and institutions, but merely changed the apex 
of the pyramid by putting himself in the place of the pope and 
demanding the oath of supremacy from all clerics, who thus 
recognized him as their sovereign. Out of this developed the 
remarkable form of the Anglican or High Church, a Lutheranism 
with bishops and prelates, auricular confession and celibacy, a 
Catholicism without pope and Peter’s pence, monastic orders and 
monasteries. It was inevitable, with so absurd and frivolous a sort 
of reform, that anyone with real religious convictions must expose 
himself to persecution. If he was a faithful Catholic, who clung 
to the Pope and regarded the later marriages of the King as 


A nglican- 
ism 


200 



'atural law 


adulterous, he was beheaded for treason; if he was an honest 
Protestant, denying the value of ceremonial and permitting the 
marriage of priests, he was hanged for sacrilege; if he was a strict 
Calvinist, who denied the transformation of the bread, he was 
burnt as a heretic. The result, therefore, of this arbitrary creation 
of the High Church was not merely that in the domain of the 
English Crown, and especially in Ireland, Catholicism held its 
own with particular obstinacy, but also that Protestant doctrine 
retained a remarkable purity as, in fact, the very name of “ Puri¬ 
tan” indicates. The chief centre of the latter was in Scotland, 
where the fanatical, rigidly moralistic John Knox founded a 
Church which was based purely on government by its own elders, 
for which reason contemporaries named it the Presbyterian; later, 
from their opposition to the official Church, its members came to 
be called dissenters or nonconformists, and, from the alliance 
formed to protect their faith, Covenanters; finally, owing to the 
complete independence of Church and State, which they claimed 
for every community, the Independents, though the last name is 
generally reserved for a particularly radical group of Puritans. 

Europe, in short, becomes a gigantic battlefield of warring 
Church parties, and community-feelings of every other sort were 
swallowed up by the religious, or more accurately the theological, 
interest, a condition which Macaulay has well described as the 
replacement of physical frontiers by moral. The political position 
of each individual was decided, not by the State to which he be¬ 
longed, nor by his race, language, or family, but simply by the 
creed he professed. The Guises and their adherents behaved as 
traitors to France by conspiring with Spain; the Huguenots 
equally so by secretly plotting with Germany. The Scottish 
Catholics sought help in France, the reformed provinces of the 
Netherlands called in the English. The papist subjects of Eliza¬ 
beth hoped for the victory of the Spanish Armada, and the Puri¬ 
tan subjects of Mary Stuart for an English invasion. German 
Protestants surrendered the bishoprics of Lorraine to the heredi¬ 
tary foe France, and French Protestants ceded Havre to the heredi¬ 
tary foe England. In close connexion with all this, there arose 
new political theories, of which the chief were those of Jean 
Bodin, John Althusius, and Hugo Grotius. It was the last-named 
who originated the idea of “ natural law,” which was the obses- 


300 



sion of Europe throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth cen¬ 
turies. Law and State, according to Grotius, do not rest on the 
direct institution of God, but are the work of man, having their 
origin in our reasonable natural disposition, our impulse to self- 
preservation, and our gregarious interest. Althusius pictured the 
origin of the State on similar lines: first the family, then the clan, 
later the communities, then again provinces, and finally the State, 
which consists not of an aggregate of individuals, but of a sum of 
corporations, so that sovereignty in the State can belong only to 
the corporations, the people ordered in their classes; this is the 
famous doctrine of popular sovereignty which had such enormous 
influence. Even Bodin, who was still a supporter of absolutism, 
limited the sovereignty of the monarch by religion and morality. 
And it was this that was, so to say, the topical feature of all con¬ 
temporary theory, the springboard from which the “ monarcho- 
machoi ” took off in fighting the princes, and the ground of their 
assertion that governmental interference with the religion of its 
subjects was inadmissible, that “cuius regia, eius religio ,> was 
both an illegal and an immoral rule. The monarch has his power 
simply from the people, who have handed it to him under contract 
(the “commission theory”), and if he exceeds his privileges, 
especially by violation of the free consciences of his subjects, the 
contract may be cancelled at any moment, since in such cases the 
people had the “ius resistendi,” the right to resist, the right to 
depose the tyrant and, if he refuses voluntary abdication, to kill 
him. But those who carried the theory into practice were Jacob 
Clement, who struck down Henry III; Frangois Ravaillac, who 
stabbed Henry IV; Balthasar Gerard, who shot William of 
Orange; John Savage and Antony Babington, with their many- 
branched conspiracies against Elizabeth; and the members of the 
Gunpowder Plot, who nearly blew James I, his family, and the 
whole of Parliament into the air. It is worth remarking that all 
those mentioned were fanatical Catholics. 

The blame for advocating and inspiring these and similar mis¬ 
deeds has often been put upon the Jesuits; and indeed their doc¬ 
trines, to say the least, admitted of considerable misconstruction 
about the permissibility of political murder. Before the Gun¬ 
powder plotters made their plans, they asked the approval of an 
important Jesuit and received the answer that in so undoubtedly 


The army 
of Jesus 


301 



noble an aim the death of a few innocents could be forgiven. Still, 
such ideas were in keeping with the spirit of the time. Jacob Cle¬ 
ment was a Dominican, and he, too, asked his superior whether it 
was a deadly sin for a priest to slay a tyrant, and received the 
answer that in such a case the priest would be guilty only of an 
irregularity. Even the Huguenot preachers to whom Poltrot de 
Mere, the murderer of Frangois de Guise, divulged his plan, went 
no further than to urge him to consider if he was not risking the 
salvation of his soul. 

The Order of the Jesuits is one of the most remarkable crea¬ 
tions in world-history, uniting in itself all the contradictions of 
the age of transition, with its violence and its spirituality, its 
bigotry and its crime; and the age gave it its colour. Its founder, 
Ignatius Loyola, like his great opponent Luther, was really a 
product of the Middle Ages, a mixture of the bold knight and the 
ecstatic saint. His essential quality was a sublime unworldly 
dreaminess, which was the very means by which he overcame half 
Europe, for his ecstatic fancy was more powerful than reality and 
subdued it. The central idea which dominated the whole of his 
life was the conviction that the spirit was sovereign, and our hu¬ 
man nature a mere instrument on which, if it had the will and 
the self-discipline, the spirit could play as it liked: that if it were 
sufficiently sincere in its resolve, it could transform the whole 
world to its own image; in short, that the soul is more powerful 
than matter. Loyola began his career as a handsome, amorous 
courtier, a splendid and fearless officer; at the siege of Pamplona, 
during one of his reckless fights, his left foot and both legs were 
broken by a huge stone. An unskilled surgeon set one leg so badly 
that it had to be broken a second time; it was always shorter than 
the other, and for months he was compelled to have heavy weights 
attached in order to stretch it. During these agonies there awoke 
in him the longing and the will to become a martyr of the Catholic 
Church and, as soon as he had practically recovered, he made the 
pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The money for the journey which his 
brother gave him he divided among the poor; on board ship he 
preached sermons on repentance, amidst the ridicule of the rough 
sailors. He scourged himself three times a day and spent seven 
hours in prayer, his food was bread and water, and his bed the bare 
deck. On his return to Spain he became a wandering preacher and 


102 



acquired a large following. But he realized that to lead men he 
needed knowledge, and thus in his thirty-third year, with great 
labour, he learnt Latin and passed through the University of 
Alcala. An association of some pious students led to the first be¬ 
ginnings of the Compama de Jesus, which was solemnly confirmed 
by the pope in 1540. 

Its very name declared its character as an organization built 
on military lines. At its head was the general of the order, answer- 
able to none but the pope; next to him came the provincial gen¬ 
erals and thence numerous degrees down to the ordinary soldier. 
Specially important was the strict prohibition excluding the 
Jesuits from all official positions and dignities, for in this way 
their forces were concentrated wholly on the service of the order. 
The chief oath that had to be taken was that of obedience: “ As 
in the spheres of heaven, by eternal laws, the lower circle follows 
the higher in its course, so the subordinate organism must be de¬ 
pendent on the nod of the higher.” The principle of subordination 
was insisted on with the same even-handed rigour as in an army, 
and in training and control brought blind obedience to superiors 
to a point where man was but a piece of wood or flesh. This was 
the famous “ obedience of corpses.” As a hardening for these and 
other tests of the will Loyola devised his “ exercitia spiritualia 
militaria,” that artificial engine of training for the control and 
regulation of passions and feelings, even of imagination and 
memory, which K. L. Schleich has compared to Prussian drill — 
and not altogether unjustly, though Jesuitism is, of course, far 
more a drill of soul than of body. 

On the other hand, this order, which made all its members 
into uniform and impersonal instruments, showed an amazing effi¬ 
ciency in individualizing tasks according to the individual’s nat¬ 
ural gifts and in always putting him at the point where he would be 
of the most service and would have the richest opportunity for un¬ 
folding his powers and tendencies. This virtuoso-technique in the 
utilization of human material is the reason for the contradictory 
opinions that have been held at all times about Jesuitism. The 
truth is that all are right, for the Jesuits are no simple phe¬ 
nomenon, but as many-sided, adaptable, and multiform as hu¬ 
man nature itself. They have done much good, much evil, much 
that was beneficial, much that was destructive; but whatever they 


Th 

imquity oj 
Jesuitism 


303 



accomplished they did with the maximum of efficiency. They 
were the finest cavaliers and the strictest ascetics, the most self- 
sacrificing missionaries and the most efficient merchants, the 
loyalest servants and the coolest statesmen, the wisest shepherds 
of souls, the most artistic theatrical producers, the finest doctors, 
and the most efficient murderers. They built churches and fac¬ 
tories, carried on pilgrimages and conspiracies; developed the 
formulse of mathematics and religion; suppressed freedom of re¬ 
search while they themselves made a number of important dis¬ 
coveries ; propagated in their writings the purest form of Chris¬ 
tianity and yet allowed the Indians still to pray to their own gods 
under the name of Christ; saved the Indians in Paraguay from 
the violence and destructiveness of the Spaniards, while they in¬ 
cited the Paris mob to the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. They 
were, in the widest sense of the phrase, capable of anything. But 
they were still more irresistible and uncanny through their mys¬ 
terious ubiquity than on account of their protean gifts. They 
were literally everywhere. It was impossible to say with complete 
certainty whether anyone was a Jesuit or, at any rate, under Jesuit 
influence. No position on earth was too high, none too low, for 
them. They were to be found in the filthiest hovels as in the cab¬ 
inets of princes; their missions extended even to Japan and China. 
But their greatest skill was in the use of the three most powerful 
influences of the time, the pulpit, the confessional, and the school. 
In their sermons they managed to unite dignity with pleasantness, 
seriousness with a sense of actualities; their books of instruc¬ 
tion surpassed all others in lucidity, clearness, and vividness. 
Their schools were famed the world over, and their teachers were 
unrivalled for intelligence, patience, knowledge, and stimulating 
power; at the universities too they had distinguished representa¬ 
tives in the most varied faculties. “When I see what this order 
has achieved,” said Bacon, “ in the education, in the development 
of character as of learning, I think of what Agesilaus said to Phar- 
nabazus: ‘ When I see you are what you are, I could wish you 
were of us.’ ” As father-confessors they exhibited a most remark¬ 
able ability to satisfy every wish and need as the case demanded; 
they could be strict and pious, or they could gloss over the 
worst crimes with understanding forgiveness, provided they could 
thereby maintain the key position of the father-confessor. 


104. 



Their practice in the confessional was the source of a system 
which under the name of Jesuitism has achieved an unenviable 
notoriety, the. system of quibbling, glossing, twisting, and casu¬ 
istry. The saying that the end justifies the means is not indeed to 
be found in any actual Jesuit writing, but much of their teach¬ 
ing came perilously near it. In their first law it was laid down that 
no member can be obliged to any act which involves mortal sin; 
but the exception follows at once: “ unless it is ordered by the 
superiors in the name of Jesus Christ,” which practically made 
the first clause ineffective. By the doctrine that in every action it 
is only the “ intentio ” that signifies (so that forbidden deeds are 
justifiable if done with good intentions), as well as by the no¬ 
torious “ secret reservation,” which was admitted in oaths, wit¬ 
nesses, and promises, the foundation was laid for that worldly 
Christianity of unscrupulousness and sophistry which culminates 
in the doctrine of probabilism — the doctrine which permits any¬ 
thing for which “ probable ” grounds can be given. Moreover, un¬ 
fortunately for themselves, the Jesuists had in Pascal an opponent 
who was the deepest thinker and most brilliant writer of the 
Baroque, who could not only gather together the objections to 
their system, but present them with annihilating clearness and 
completeness in such a masterpiece of creative irony as the Pro¬ 
vincial Letters. Taking all in all, no impartial judge can deny that 
Jesuitism was founded and swept along by the noblest and most 
altruistic devotion to a great idea; but from the beginning there 
was a seed of poison, that, while deadly to its opponents, was 
deadly also to itself. It had been forgotten that lying is nowhere 
and never permissible, even “ to the glory of God ”; in fact, there 
least of all. 

While the Jesuits were carrying on mine-warfare against the 
Reformation over all Europe, Philip II fought it openly and with 
brute violence. It is a fair question whether this king was to some 
extent unsound of mind; his son Don Carlos certainly was, as 
well as his grandmother Johanna the Mad, the first queen of 
united Spain. Certainly the Habsburg psychosis of which we have 
spoken appears in him with a particular rawness of form. His 
life was dominated by one obsession, the complete restoration of 
the universal Church of Rome and the expansion of Spanish 
absolutism over the whole world. To this end he devoted every 


Philip 



moment of his reign of more than forty years, unhesitatingly 
sacrificing everything which it lay within his power to sacrifice: 
ships, money, lands, men, the Spanish blood of his soldiers and 
the Flemish blood of his heretics, the peace of his neighbours and 
the well-being of his subjects. And at the close of his life he saw 
not a single one of his ambitions any nearer to realization, the 
forces which he had spent his life in combating all rising to vic¬ 
tory, himself in poverty and hated, powerless, and lamed by 
gout; and the sun, which rose and set within his empire, shining 
on nothing but misery and decay. 

The character of Philip displayed all the qualities of the Habs- 
burgs and all the qualities of the Spaniards in the strongest, yet 
absurdest, combination. The Spanish hidalgos were bigoted, but 
Philip was fanatical; they were unhesitating and brutal, Philip’s 
path was over corpses; they considered themselves as higher be¬ 
ings, Philip thought himself a god; they were exclusive, Philip 
inaccessible: they kept themselves in obscurity, Philip was liter¬ 
ally invisible. Only the highest grandees were allowed access to 
him, and even they only on their knees; his commands were issued 
in half-sentences whose meaning had to be guessed. No one was 
allowed to mount a horse he had ridden, nor marry a woman he 
had possessed. By his people he was quite truly regarded as holy, 
a sort of priest-king. His life was spent in the most comfortless 
monotony: he always ate the same food, which was punctually 
served at the same hours; he always wore the same black suit, 
even the orders on his breast were black: every day he perfomed 
the same journey through the empty, uninspiring environs of his 
castle; in his later years he never left his room at all except to go 
to mass. In his whole bearing he was the incarnation of the Span¬ 
ish ideal of “ sosiego the stark unimpressible quiet and outward 
calm which gives away none of its inner emotions. He approached 
no man too closely, or even closely; he was never unfriendly, but 
never, on the other hand, even ordinarily human. He had that cold 
politeness that keeps men at a distance, which humbles and of¬ 
fends more than the most brutal arrogance. He is reputed to have 
laughed only once in his life, and that was when he received news 
of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew — the Pope of the day, it is 
true, reacted to it still more brightly, for he celebrated the greatest 
massacre of modern times by a memorial coinage and a magnifi- 

306 



cent Te Deum and thereby defiled the chair of Peter more than 
any of his predecessors had done by their sodomy, simony, or 
bloodshed. 

In one respect only, Philip was not Spanish: in his extraor¬ 
dinary industry. From morning till evening he sat at his state 
papers, settling all business personally, in his own handwriting 
and after mature consideration. But even on this tireless activity 
and devotion to duty there lay the same curse of sterility. His 
energy had nothing creative; it was the subaltern treadmill- 
energy of the chancery clerk, which has no end beyond itself. This 
is one of the many contradictions on which his life foundered: he 
had the world-spanning plans of a Napoleon and tried to ac¬ 
complish them by the means of an uninspired, cumbrous and 
small-minded bureaucracy. This viscous dilly-dallying typifies his 
whole regime; his favourite expression was “ I and my times,” 
and his favourite answer to the most pressing question was 
“Manana (tomorrow).” Moreover, with him as with all ad¬ 
ministrative bureaucrats, jealousy and suspicion amounted to a 
disease. There was none of his servants whom he wholly trusted, 
and he was always trying to play one off against the other. Mili¬ 
tary and diplomatic successes, and any conspicuous popularity 
or abilities, made him uneasy. To cope with these (generally 
imaginary) threats to the royal omnipotence he used the arts of 
hypocrisy, which as a Spaniard he possessed in the highest degree, 
and ingratitude, which was second nature to him as a Habsburg. 
The two most glaring instances were Egmont, the victor of Saint- 
Quentin and Gravelines, who was flattered and feted in the most 
exquisite manner when his death had already been decided on, 
and Don Juan of Austria, who, after breaking for ever the sea 
power of Turkey at Lepanto, died suddenly (in a mysterious 
fashion) when he stood at the height of the royal favour. By this 
mania for persecution and puerile supervision Philip turned the 
proud Spaniards into a nation of lackeys, spies, and vagabonds. 
The Escorial is the living symbol of his nature. A stone desola¬ 
tion raised up in the form of the grid on which St. Laurence suf¬ 
fered martyrdom: cold and grey, monotonous and chilling and 
inaccessible, it was rather a monastery and cemetery than a resi¬ 
dence and palace. And indeed what he bequeathed was nothing 
but one vast escorial: that is, a heap of cinders. The story runs 


The Worla 
Escork 


307 



that when he felt death approaching, he asked for a skull, on which 
a golden crown was placed, and that he fixed his gaze immovably 
upon it and so passed away — a moving climax and a splendid 
symbol of this royal life, so powerful, but so meaningless, and of 
the high spirituality that dwelt in this monster. 

The destructive influence of Philip extended to everything 
that came under his regime. Never did he display the slightest 
appreciation of the fact that every personal and national idiom 
has its particular conditions and requirements for favourable ex¬ 
pansion. The lands of Spanish blood suffered from the double 
weight of political despotism and clerical inquisition; the people 
was decimated by the unending autos-da-fe, which were accom¬ 
panied by extravagant splendour and awe-inspiring solemnity, and 
trained the survivors to intolerance and cruelty. The censorship 
was nowhere so strict and inexorable as in Spain; visits to foreign 
schools were forbidden under heavy penalties, lest the poison of 
free-thought should infect. The Aragonese, Catalonians, and 
Andalusians in the provinces of the periphery, who differed very 
considerably from the population of the centre (the Meseta) in 
language, character, and manners, were brutally tyrannized: all 
Spain was to be made Castilian, subjugated to the harsh and 
gloomy, narrow and haughty type of the centre. In 1580 Portugal 
was annexed to Spain by inheritance and force of arms and ruined 
for ever: its colonies were lost or fell away, its part in world 
commerce every year diminished in value and importance. The 
remains of the Arabs, the Moriscos, who were still numerous in 
the south, were driven to distraction by the most ridiculous and 
intolerable ordinances: they were forbidden to use their mother 
tongue either in public or in private, they were deprived of their 
black slaves, to whom they were devotedly attached; even their 
baths, their costume, and their musical instruments were denied 
to them. After a revolt which was bloodily repressed, many of 
them had fled overseas, and yet in the presence of this warning 
Philip immediately proceeded to his expulsion measures, without 
giving a thought to the fact that he was robbing himself of his 
most intelligent, efficient, and industrious subjects — for it was 
to the Moriscos that the country owed the splendid irrigation sys¬ 
tem which had turned the sand-deserts into fruitful gardens; it 
was they who controlled the rice culture, sugar and cotton, the 

308 



manufacture of silk and paper — in fact, every profitable industry 
on which the wealth of Spain depended. 

But his colonial policy was still madder. Even on the mother- 
land the overseas conquests had many evil effects • they required coU 

the emigration of thousands whom thinly populated Spain could ^ 

not spare, and they enhanced to an appalling degree in those who 
remained the native tendency to laziness and self-indulgence. 

As a result vast areas remained uncultivated, mining was neg¬ 
lected while the country still possessed great supplies of unutilized 
ore, trade and industry collapsed from malnutrition. As for the 
colonies themselves, the Spaniards there behaved not only like 
robbers, but like entirely stupid robbers. Their conduct was more 
or less that of banditti breaking up some invaluable mosaic in 
order to carry off the precious stones, or killing a milch cow, from 
which they might have had many years’ sustenance, for a meal of 
its meat; nay, in their senseless greed they overate themselves 
and died of it. Even if they had occupied only the Portuguese 
colonies, it would have been far too much for them, for those in¬ 
cluded among many others the east and west coasts of Africa, the 
Moluccas, and the huge expanse of Brazil. 

At the beginning they did not know even the first principle of 
colonial government: that it is only possible to gain lasting ad¬ 
vantages from a conquered territory if it is allowed to flourish 
itself. Their one economic principle was a primitive robbery of 
the natives by means of the notorious rvpartimentos — the com¬ 
pulsory distribution of worthless European imports at fantastic 
prices. As this source of income soon ran dry, they began the 
exploitation of the land by similar methods of compulsion; but 
the natives, who were over-refined by centuries of existence in 
mild surroundings and under mild government, could not fulfil 
these demands; many succumbed to their efforts, some fled to the 
wilds, the remainder took to systematic suicide, directly by 
means of vegetable poisons or indirectly by refusing to beget a 
posterity. Only a few endured to the end—those who had learnt 
from the Spanish priests that they could not avoid meeting white 
men even in the other world. In Jamaica, for instance, the native 
population had died out within fifty years of the conquest, and it 
was the same in Cuba also. The clergy — who, to their eternal 
honour, were almost always on the side of the natives — suggested 


309 



The revolt 
of the 
'etherlands 


a means for their protection which was unfortunately only a 
cause of further brutality. They proposed the import of Negro 
slaves from Africa, with the result that even in the first half of the 
sixteenth century that odious trade, in which almost all European 
nations partook, flourished exceedingly. It goes without saying 
that the Spaniards behaved no less heedlessly and madly with re¬ 
gard to the dumb natives of America; everywhere their track was 
marked by wanton annihilation of the natural fauna, vandal de¬ 
forestation, and planless exhaustion of the forces of the earth. 

The behaviour of the Spaniards in the Netherlands, which was 
the richest, most vital and cultured area of the North, was as bad 
as if they were dealing with some subject dominion of Negroes. 
It took a long time before their perverse folly, their blind avarice 
and inhuman brutality, could rouse to a passionate revolt that 
peace-loving and slowly moving people, these merchants with 
their account-books and pedagogues with their school-books. 
But once roused, there was no suppressing them. Alba’s tactics, 
adopted at the express instructions of his king, were not merely 
despicable, but incomprehensible. The Council of Unrest, or the 
Bloody Council, as the people justly nicknamed it, was to deal 
with the punishment of traitors, and the term “ traitor ” included 
all who had signed a petition for the relaxation of the Inquisition 
or had failed to prevent such a petition, or who even under com¬ 
pulsion had listened to an evangelical sermon, or had said that the 
King had not the right to take from the provinces their liberty, 
or had disputed whether the Council of Unrest was above the 
law, or had asserted that one must obey God more than man, or 
any who had listened to such remarks in silence. Obviously it 
was almost impossible not to commit at least one of such crimes, 
and it was only the logical conclusion of these frenzied premisses 
when all inhabitants of the Netherlands were condemned to death 
on February 16, 1568 as heretics: an action which is probably 
unique in history. After thousands had been hanged, burned, im¬ 
prisoned, exiled, or had had their property confiscated, a royal am¬ 
nesty was issued promising immunity to all who could prove that 
they had never committed the slightest offence, on condition that 
they repented and asked for pardon within a definite period: such 
an amnesty also is probably without its match in history. 

Now, it is illuminating for the student of human nature that 


310 



the Netherlanders were not driven to revolt by any of these meas¬ 
ures, but only by an administrative edict of the governor of a finan¬ 
cial nature, which may have equalled the rest in folly and shame¬ 
lessness, but which one would have imagined to be at least more 
tolerable. Alba had promised Philip he would send a stream of gold 
a fathom deep from the Netherlands to Spain, and he published a 
decree that taxes should be raised, of one per cent as a non-recur¬ 
ring income-tax on all movable and immovable property, of a 
“ twentieth penny ” or five per cent on all property that was sold, 
and of a “ tenth penny ” or ten per cent on every sale of movable 
goods. This last clause, more even than the others, would have 
meant the complete ruin of Netherlands commerce if it had been 
rigidly enforced. And then at last the country declared its inde¬ 
pendence, and the great Revolt of the Netherlands began with the 
cry: “ Rather Turk than Papist.” It was a victorious and heroic 
fight of a small nation of shopkeepers against the greatest military 
power of Europe. All this is very remarkable, but man is built so. 
Freedom, faith, even life may be taken from him sooner than in¬ 
come, wealth, and business. In the same way the Jacobins, whose 
administrative methods remind us by their stupidity and cruelty 
of the Spanish regime (though this was the outcome of a wholly 
different sort of attitude), made themselves intolerable, not by 
their suppression of public opinion, their scorn for religion, or their 
mass-executions, but by their attacks on property and their de¬ 
structive effects on trade, industry, and finance: it was, in fact, 
the assignats and not the guillotine that ruined them. 

The revolt of the Netherlands marked the beginning of Coiiafs, 
Philip’s decline; after it, all went awry. His imperialistic program PM 
was briefly this: encircling France as he did with the Nether¬ 
lands possessions on the north, with Franche-Comte on the east 
and with Spain on the south side, to keep it in a disrupted state 
internally by backing the power of the papist and anti-dynastic 
Ligue, and thus in the end to put one of his own kindred, or 
a member of some French house dependent on him, on the throne. 

In this way the only continental power that might be dangerous 
was to become a sort of Spanish protectorate. England he hoped 
to make his own either by such personal union as had previously 
existed during his marriage to “ Bloody Mary ” or by the superi¬ 
ority of his fleet. He already possessed a great part of Italy, and 



m Juan 
tnd Don 
Quixote 


so held the rest of it diplomatically and militarily in subjection; 
a branch of the Habsburgs was ruling in the hereditary provinces 
of Austria and sat on the German throne. Thus the Hispaniza- 
tion and re-Catholicization of Europe would have been actually 
achieved, for the Turks would have been hardly able to stand 
against the colossal power of such a union. 

But the realization everywhere fell short of the proj ect, easily 
executable as this appeared to be. Even his own family did not 
adjust themselves to Philip’s plans. Under his uncle Ferdinand I, 
the successor of Charles V, the Reformed faith gained a large 
number of adherents in the Austrian area, and his son, the em¬ 
peror Maximilian II, one of the most notable of the Habsburgs, 
was almost a Protestant. In Franee, after decades of terrible con¬ 
fusion, the first and greatest of the Bourbons ascended the throne 
in Henry IV, and he not only gave the Huguenots the same civil 
rights as the Catholics by the Edict of Nantes, but pursued a 
strictly national and anti-Spanish policy. Elizabeth scorned the 
marriage proposals of Philip and even supported the revolted 
Netherlanders with cash and men. Against England, therefore, 
Philip directed his first great effort, and in the spring of 1588 the 
“ Invincible Armada,” the strongest and best-equipped fleet that 
modern Europe had ever seen, left Lisbon harbour. Its fate is well 
known, but it was not storms alone that destroyed it; its ruin 
was due to similar causes to those which laid low the vast sea 
power which Xerxes brought against the Greeks. The Persian and 
the Spanish ships were huge floating houses, packed with men and 
arms, but incapable of manoeuvring, and by their numbers ob¬ 
structing each other rather than the enemy. The English and 
Greek ships were not built to inspire fear, but to constitute mobile 
and effective units: they could flee as easily as they could attack, 
while the ungainly monsters of the enemy had to wait till their 
opponents drew up to them and if a quick retreat was necessary, 
crashed against each other. But the deeper and truer reason for 
the debacle in each case was that spirit was on the side of the 
weaker. It was spirit that conquered in the Channel as at Salamis. 

Thus even at the beginning of the seventeenth century the 
Italian poet Alessandro Tassoni was only setting down the gen¬ 
eral opinion when he called Spain an elephant with the soul of a 
chicken, a thunderbolt that dazzles but does not kill, a giant whose 


412 



arms were tied with cords. And yet, despite Philip’s failures, the 
Spaniards showed a devoted loyalty to him, and even centuries 
after, the saying was common that there was no second to Philip II } 
“ Felipe scgundo sin segundo One of the chief reasons for this 
loyalty was that, as has been mentioned above, he possessed to 
an extreme and even to an absurd degree the national character¬ 
istics of the Spaniards. But there was another reason as well, for 
this strange man was one of the most munificent and judicious 
patrons of art and science. He gave his people a permanent, defi¬ 
nite, and specific style of thought. His manuscript collection at 
the Escorial, gigantic like all he undertook, aroused the admira¬ 
tion of the whole world; the architecture produced under his 
encouragement, the so-called “ estilo plateresco” or goldsmith 
style, a bewildering mosaic of Moorish, Gothic, and Italian ele¬ 
ments — eclectic and yet at the same time original in the very ex¬ 
travagance of its ornament — is a brilliant expression of the Span¬ 
ish character. Literature, too, already began to produce the most 
remarkable creations during his reign; it included Tirso de Molina 
and Cervantes, each of whom gave birth to the finest and rarest 
creation of which a poet is capable — namely, a figure which is 
not merely a strong individual personality, but a new species of 
man, an artistic synthesis of a whole genus. Tirso de Molina 
wrote the first drama dealing with Don Juan, who is the Romance 
counterpart of Faust and Cervantes’s Don Quixote, originally 
only a caricature of the exaggerated knightly romance of the times 
and the heroic perversity of the hidalgo, ended by becoming far 
more, an immortal tragicomedy of human idealism. At bottom 
Don Quixote is the eternal type of the poet: he has discovered that 
reality always deceives him and must by its very essence deceive 
him (for that essence is itself unreal) and he therefore determines 
not to recognize it! As Don Quixote is the first romance in world 
literature, Mendoza’s Historia de la guerra de Granada is the first 
real historical work of the modem age — lucid, precise, amazingly 
impartial; and Lope de Vega, that “ monstruo de naturaleza” 
with his fifteen hundred dramas, is the first modern playwright on 
the large scale. Indeed, every true dramatist is a polygraph, a 
play-factory, and his life’s achievement properly belongs not to 
the history of literature, but to that of technique. His object is 
not to produce figures, but roles, not “works, but text-books, 

313 



often, indeed, frameworks for texts; not eternal values, but values 
of the moment. His master is the public, whom he scorns but 
serves; Lope realized this himself when he said that the aim of 
drama is to please. The same was the case with Calderon and 
Moliere; and indeed with Shakspere too, for he wrote a vast 
amount, but only so long as he was a manager, and he had none 
of his plays printed, because outside the theatre there was no 
justification for their existence; our Shaksperian scholars with 
their disputations on textual purity and authenticity would have 
struck him as immensely comic. 

So great was the hypnotic influence of the Spanish that it 
subdued the whole of Europe. This is manifested first of all in 
costume, which after the end of the sixteenth century is com¬ 
pletely Hispanized. The basic idea is a gloomy sobriety, a con¬ 
centrated formality, a flaunted bigotry. It is almost true to say 
that court attire becomes everyday dress. The tight Spanish boots, 
the stiff Spanish ruff and cloak, are still proverbial, and the trunk- 
hose puffed out with horsehair, the vest with padded sleeves and 
cushioned goose-belly, and the pointed Spanish hat with its nar¬ 
row brim. Till then women had been eager to emphasize their 
attractions: now they began modestly to hide them with corsets 
to flatten the breast, and their skirts were stiffened or hooped out 
on wire crinolines to hide the whole of the lower part of their 
bodies. A striking innovation was the handkerchief, and a com¬ 
plete toilet would require, for a woman, a fan and mask, for a 
man the pointed rapier, and for both, gloves; even indoors it was 
ill-mannered to appear without hat and cloak. The increasingly 
gigantic size of the ruff led to the close cropping of the hair and the 
narrow, pointed beard — the so-called “ Henri Quatre ,” though 
that king never wore it himself. 

At the same time there spread abroad from Spain the “ estilo 
culto ” or “ cultismo ” a fashion of words embellished, exagger¬ 
ated, decorative, brave with forced and empty allegories. Its foun¬ 
der was the poet Luis de Gongora, from whom the style was called 
Gongorism, though in Italy it was called Marinismo after its 
chief representative, Giambattista Marini, whose artificial an¬ 
titheses and florid similes were admired and imitated by the whole 
world. In France it was called “ preciosite ” and in England 
Euphuism, after Lyly’s famous romance Eupkues, the Anatomy 

3H 



of Wit, a series of frigid witticisms and affected concetti, as they 
were called, a playing on words which had an influence on Shak- 
spere’s diction that was as lasting as it was injurious. It not 
only pervaded the whole poetry of the time, but was echoed in 
scientific literature, in polite conversation, and even in decrees, 
petitions, and resolutions of Parliament. Its ideal was bizzarria 
at all costs, its object lo stupore, to amaze: “ e del poeta il fin la 
maraviglia,” Marini taught; and he was put by his contempo¬ 
raries tower-high above all Greek, Roman, and Hebrew poets. 

This passion for empty affectation and heavy mannerism 
found expression in the morbid collecting mania and childish 
love of every kind of rarity that is a special characteristic of the 
period. In the collections of Rudolf II in the palace of Prague, 
side by side with the finest works of art, there were to be found 
boxes with magnetic stones and Indian feathers, roots and man¬ 
drake, three bagpipes, two iron nails out of Noah’s ark, a crocodile 
in a case, a “ stone that grows,” a monster with two heads, a 
“fleece that had fallen from heaven,” “all manner of strange 
sea-fish, and therewith a bat.” Equally unmeaning was the un¬ 
discriminating antiquarianism and tasteless delight in all con¬ 
ceivable mythological, archaeological, and philological allusions. 
Thus, for example, when the masque of The Judgment of Paris 
was performed before Elizabeth, the gardens swarmed with 
nymphs, the terraces with satyrs, the pools with Nereids and 
Tritons. Diana approached the Queen and declared her the arche¬ 
type of maiden chastity and invited her to the shelter of the wood, 
where she should be safe from Actaeon’s pursuit. At the end Paris 
was put on trial for giving the apple to Venus and not to the 
Queen. At the royal table pasties were served depicting Ovidian 
metamorphoses, and there was a raisin cake on which was dis¬ 
played the War of Troy. On another occasion Cupid, amid a band 
of Olympian gods, approached the Queen and handed her a golden 
arrow, the sharpest in his quiver, possessed of such irresistible 
fascination that the hardest heart would feel the wound. And at 

that time the Queen was fifty years of age. 

The country in which Classicism exercised the strongest in¬ 
fluence, however, was France, where the consolidation of the 
monarchy gradually made Paris the predominant point that drew 
all currents into itself as the great representative centre of the 


Fret, 
Classict 
and com 

Ofi 

Naturdt 


-2TC 



he sceftic 
%rmatt on 
of life 


country, which it has remained to this day. The capital became 
decisive for literature, architecture, fashions, manners. From the 
time of Francis I all changes in architecture took their impulse 
from the court and the royal palace, and the Sorbonne was the 
absolute authority in all theological and scientific questions. Paris 
was France. 

The real founder of French Classicism in poetry was Frangois 
de Malherbe, who, in the words of Boileau’s eulogy, “ led the 
Muse back to the harness of duty he is the father of that cor¬ 
rectly emotional, soberly graceful type of poetry which survived 
in France till the nineteenth century. Fie established the suprem¬ 
acy of the Alexandrine, a metre as flexible as it is monotonous, 
and one which, just because it is so indifferent, admits of anything 
being said in it. At the same time a second element was introduced 
into (and has also remained typical of) French literature—with 
Honore d’Urfe’s famous pastoral romance Astree, for which the 
French mind conceived an enthusiasm that established for two 
hundred years the tepidly sentimental pseudo-naturalism of comic 
opera. D’Urfe’s Celadon, equally with Don Juan and Don Quix¬ 
ote, passed from an individual into an idea, and his powdered 
shepherds of the stage, and scented nymphs, whose lively coyness 
bears the same relation to natural passion as decollete to nudity, 
still peopled Rousseau’s world of ideas. 

In architecture the “ French style ” had even then reached its 
height, and the aristocracy and higher clergy who lived on the so¬ 
cial peaks erected a brilliant symbol of themselves in the chateaux 
of the sixteenth century. Their homes are exactly parallel to their 
attitude to their life and conventions, elegant and cheerful, but a 
little prosaic, well lighted and wide-viewed but without genuine 
warmth, harmonious and clearly articulated, but without the 
grandiose gesture of their Italian forerunners, rich in pictures and 
magnificently panelled, but architecturally jejune in their in¬ 
teriors, airy and spacious, but with an effect of bareness — and, 
therefore, just castles, isolated, barred, and self-centred. The 
reader will perhaps have observed already that we are speaking 
of Montaigne. 

The professional historians of philosophy, if they ever con¬ 
descend to deal with so unphilosophically lucid and worldly-wise 
a thinker as Montaigne, treat him as the typical sceptic. But 





Montaigne’s scepticism is no one-sided negation, but an all-round 
affirmation, ide knows too much to be able to lay down anything 
positive; he cannot take up any one standpoint because he might 
adopt them all; his power of thought is too pervasive to suffer the 
restrictions of a system. 

A sceptic, in the sense in which ^Montaigne was one, is passion¬ 
ately devoted to the golden mean, he is the “ tongue of the bal¬ 
ance,” as Emerson said; he does not wish to rule the world or to 
surrender to it, he wants to observe it. His motto is Dante’s 
amazing saying: “Non ci badar, ma guarda e fassa .” Look and 
pass on; that is the best attitude to take up to the world’s course. 
Or, as Byron said: “ I regard myself as a being put by the hand 
of God in the midst of a great theatre.” The sceptic knows all, un¬ 
derstands all and laughs at all. The idealist does not treat re¬ 
ality seriously, and the realist replies by not taking the ideal¬ 
ist world seriously either. The sceptic takes neither seriously: 
for him the world is an eternal seesaw. “Everything moves 
to and fro, the earth, the rocks of the Caucasus, the pyramids. 
Even consistency is nothing but a less violently oscillating see¬ 
saw.” Montaigne’s mind was a benevolent mixture of delighted 
enjoyment of life and an uneasy bent for introspection. Of himself 
he said that he was by nature not melancholy, but only given to 
investigation; life for him is in itself neither a good nor a bad 
thing, but the sphere of good and evil according to what you put 
into it— a thought which we find in Shakspere also. To be “ pre¬ 
pared ” was to him everything: “ I sing and say to myself in¬ 
cessantly that all that may one day happen may happen today.” 
He was undoubtedly a stoic, but the most human and the most 
delightful stoic who ever lived. The final end of life lies in satis¬ 
faction, and “ even in virtue the aim to which we look is pleasure, 
by which we ought to mean the most delightful, sweetest, and 
most natural enjoyment.” Thus he was also undoubtedly an 
Epicurean, but one of the most sensitive and dignified Epicureans 
who ever lived. The central purpose of his whole philosophy, 
however, was self-observation and self-depiction: “ I study my¬ 
self, that is my metaphysics and my physics.” And man, led by 
Montaigne towards himself, towards a good-humoured care-free 
study of his own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, his own un¬ 
reasonableness and contradictions, his own ambiguities and 



The 

Montaigne- 

man 


Jakob 

Bohme 


background, must come out at scepticism, in that he must 
recognize that he does not know himself. 

The type created by Montaigne of the bright man of the world, 
who unites strong inclinations with weak convictions, equally pre¬ 
pared to enjoy or to die, meets us everywhere in the higher ranges 
of society. But only a small minority were able to stand against 
the danger of moral insanity which is latent in every logical 
scepticism; and even they made too massive a thing out of Mon¬ 
taigne’s brave sense of reality. But they all have Montaigne in 
their blood, with his doubts as well as his sensualism — William 
of Orange, for example, who was equally observant of himself 
and clear-sighted in judgment of others, whose proverbial taci¬ 
turnity was nothing but scepticism and the realization that the 
word kills the truth; who was Protestantism’s strongest cham¬ 
pion, and yet in the depths of his soul quite neutral in matters of 
faith; or the cold realist Elizabeth, who was lauded as the rock of 
the Reformation, but was equally neutral in reality; or the im¬ 
partial, even politically impartial, Catherine de’ Medici, who in 
her passion for power, like a drug-addict’s for his opiate, simply 
had to rule at any cost, no matter whether it was by way of Guises 
or Huguenots, Spaniards or French, noble or plebeian; or Essex, 
another who was eager for power; or the jocular-cynical Cecil; 
or Kepler, who was confessionally, though not religiously, an in¬ 
different. But the supreme example is Henry IV, the greatest 
ruler of the age. His sovereign insight saw into both parties as they 
really were, and discerning that both as they stood were equally 
in the wrong, he did them both j ustice. It was as a realist too that 
he reached the knowledge that the substantial enjoyments of the 
flesh, handsome women, fine clothes, country houses, gardens, 
horses, good wine and food, are not to be despised. But Hamlet, 
too, has read Montaigne and been led by him to the deep con¬ 
viction that anyone who acts, in that thereby he takes up a defi¬ 
nite standpoint, must of necessity become limited, unjust, and 
cruel, and that an act is an absurdity. 

Even the complete philosophical antipodes to Montaigne, the 
heavy, narrow, dull, and obscure Jakob Bohme, has something 
of Montaigne’s spirit. For no one has penetrated so deeply or 
illuminated so'broadly the principle of the “coincidence of op¬ 
posites,” the contradictions of the world and humanity, as this 



profound shoemaker. One day he noted a useless old pewter pot 
in which the sun was reflected, and realized with astonishment 
that though it was just a bad and crude pewter pot, it could yet 
contain the sun. Thereupon he became that which men call clair¬ 
voyant and went into retirement, where he wrote one of the finest 
of theosophical works. The sudden revelation that had come to him 
was that everything in the world can only be manifested by its 
opposite, light by darkness, good by evil, yea by nay, God by the 
world, His love by His anger, and hence that all being not only 
consists of opposites, but exists by reason of them, for it is only 
through them that there is being at all. 

Giordano Bruno, too, the loftiest and most universal brain of 
the age, made the coincidence of opposites one of the cardinal 
ideas of his work and described it as a “ magic formula ” of philos¬ 
ophy. His splendid intuitions outstripped his contemporaries by 
hundreds of years. Beginning as a Dominican, leaving the order 
because of a suspicion of heresy, he led a restless, wandering ex¬ 
istence in Italy, France, England, and Germany, took a degree 
as Doctor of Philosophy at Toulouse, attached a number of ardent 
adherents to himself in Paris, and lectured in Oxford and Witten¬ 
berg to large audiences on astronomy and philosophy; but was ex¬ 
posed everywhere to persecution for his freedom of thought and 
his irony, was arrested on his return home by the Inquisition, and 
finally, after years of unsuccessful efforts to make him recant, was 

burnt in Rome in the year 1600. 

As Wilhelm Dilthey has remarked, Bruno was truly the “ son 
of the strip of land between Vesuvius and the Mediterranean.” 
He was himself a Vesuvius, pouring out lava, fiery and formless, 
throwing the world into amazement and terror by the glory and 
force of his eruptions, consuming himself in his own fire, and 
finally himself burnt to ashes. He was a poet as intensely as he 
was a philosopher, and his two talents did not balance themselves, 
but lay in tragic opposition, so that he could only bring to birth 
gigantic hybrids; he, too, had some of the passion for metaphor 
and for exaggeration which was typical of Gongorism, but sub¬ 
limated to a daemonic level. To him God is the wholly unknow¬ 
able, dwelling in a light that is inaccessible to human insight. We 
see the statue, but not the sculptor, and of the divine substance 
we perceive but a trace and a remote effect; it is only as a shadowy 


Giordan 

Brun 



reflection, in riddling words, that we can look upon God. From 
this he arrives at a more or less definite pantheism, which an¬ 
ticipates the Spinozistic formula: “ dcus sive natura” in the 
saying that God and nature are opposed only in the mind of 
the unseeing. And the principle of the monad was taken over 
from him by Leibniz, who carried it to triumph. In this mat¬ 
ter Bruno’s teaching coincided entirely with Leibniz’s: there is 
one mathematical minimum, the point, one physical minimum, 
the atom, and one metaphysical minimum, the monad. Each of 
these is a mirror of the All, every one eternal, and only its rela¬ 
tions are changing. Thus the monads are the Godhead itself, which, 
though an indivisible unity, is yet present in each one of them as 
a particular phenomenal form, just as in each particle of an or¬ 
ganism the organic force, and in each element of a work of art 
the artistic force, live undivided, and yet are displayed in specific 
form: “ omnia ubique.” As the earth revolves simultaneously on 
its own axis and round the sun, so each thing obeys not only the 
particular law of its own being, but the general law of the uni¬ 
verse. The death of the monad is no more a passing into nothing 
than its birth is a creation out of nothing. And so Bruno became 
the master of the two greatest philosophers of the century in 
whose first year his body was given to the flames. But his in¬ 
fluence was even wider still: Hamann, the deepest thinker of the 
German Enlightenment, joined on to him, and even later still, 

Schelling called one of his works Bruno, or the Natural and 

— 1 

Divine Principle of Things. 

Still more remarkable are Bruno’s anticipations of the future 
of astronomy. He completed the Copernican system and antici¬ 
pated Galileo; he taught that the earth was only approximately 
of spherical form, and flattened at the poles; that the sun also 
rotates on its own axis; that all fixed stars are suns round 
which planets invisible to us through their distance revolve. 
He proposed the hypothesis of the aether, which has only been 
accepted in recent times; he even had an idea of the theory 
of relativity when he asserted that there were as many times as 
there were stars; and some of his views go beyond our present 
knowledge and belong to the future, notably his hypotheses on 
the condition of bodies in the universe. In the cosmos as he saw it, 
there are countless stars, worlds, suns, and earths, for the universe 



is infinite in all directions; and therefore none is central, but there 
are as many centres as there are worlds or even atoms. All con¬ 
stellations are individuals, colossal organisms, and yet, in rela¬ 
tion to still bigger world-individuals, only parts and organs. These 
huge bodies are all built up of the same elements, and conse¬ 
quently the forces working in them are those known to us. “ Any¬ 
one who imagined that there were no more planets than those we 
know is as wise as a man who imagined that there were no more 
birds in the air than he can observe from his own little window.” 
“ Only a fool could hold the opinion that in infinite space, on the 
countless universes of which the majority have certainly a better 
fate than we, there is nothing more than the light that we receive 
from them. It is simply nonsensical to assume there are no other 
forms of life, no other capacities for thinking, no other senses 
than those we know.” Such intuitive knowledge takes Bruno far 
beyond even our modern astronomy, which by its nervous cau¬ 
tion and narrow pedantry does not dare to go beyond the poor 
facts which its adored telescopes can tell it. We are again and 
again assured by the specialists — that is, men who have only 
seen one side of the truth — that the moon is a dead earth, the 
sun exists only to distribute light and warmth, while life is im¬ 
possible upon it, that Mars may once have nurtured highly in¬ 
telligent men, but unfortunately only in the distant past. All this 
sort of thing is sheer anthropomorphic chatter of high-browed 
but narrow-browed pedants; for it is fundamentally impossible 
that there should be an earth that is dead. Such would be a con¬ 
tradiction in terms, for earth means life and the home of life. 
How, then, can it be dead? As for the sun, how could it create 
so much life on so many planets, maintain them, raise them, and 
renew them if it were not itself an inexhaustible hearth of life. Is 
it likely that it would use its vast creative powers for its satellites 
and keep none at all for itself? Further, if there ever was life on 
Mars, it is quite impossible that there should no longer be any, 
for life always has the tendency to propagate, elevate, and multi¬ 
ply itself. Can one seriously doubt that the mission of all divinely 
created beings to spiritualize themselves completely has been al¬ 
ready achieved on other heavenly bodies? Every star represents 
a plane of perfection — that is, one of the possible levels of 
snintiiflliratirm. Everv one has life and living beings upon it. 



developing upwards, even if its inhabitants do not always wear 
the appearance of a professor of astronomy. 

Francis It is quite natural that Bruno, who is in advance even of our 
Bacon own times, should have been regarded by his contemporaries 
either as a diabolical seducer or a mad fantastic. The philosopher 
who gave clear and definite expression to what all the world was 
th i nking was Francis Bacon: no fathomless volcano like Bruno, 
no God-seeker, struggling in the darkness, like Bohme, no sensi¬ 
tive psychological atom like Montaigne, no fiery world-eye like 
Shakspere, but a deliberate and impressive speaker who had the 
gift of comprehending and brilliantly formulating the effort of 
his own age. It was of his essence that he was English, for such a 
philosophy as his could only come out of England. 

The rise During the sixteenth century England developed from a me- 
of England digevaj city-state into a modern European great power, not as 

patriotic legend pretends, thanks to its rulers, but in spite of them, 
for they were generally mediocre, often contemptible. Henry VIII 
we have come across several times already. Not even Shakspere’s 
court poetry with all its retouching could depict him except as a 
coarse and treacherous despot. Holbein’s portrait is enough to 
give a complete idea of this bej ewelled butcher, this overpowering 
incarnation of bestial energy and insatiable vitality. His son, 
Edward VI, who gave promise of talents, died in youth; he was 
succeeded by “ Bloody Mary,” an embittered old maid and intense 
bigot, who, completely under the influence of her husband, Philip II 
(for whom she had a lifelong and ill-requited passion), strove by 
the most brutal means to bring about a Catholic restoration and 
— what her subjects resented far more even than her cruel at¬ 
tempts at reaction — lost Calais in the war with France which 
she carried on as an ally of Spain. If she had lived a few years 
longer, revolution would have followed. Her successor was Eliza¬ 
beth, a prudent and clear-sighted but immoderately vain and 
egoistic woman, with the brutal unscrupulousness, cool deceit, 
and self-righteous prudery which England’s enemies regard as her 
national characteristics. Certainly “ cant ” was developed in her, 
even so soon, to sheer artistry. It is a quality for which no other 
language has a word, because no other people has the character¬ 
istic. Cant is neither lying nor hypocrisy: it is something far more 
complicated. It is a talent — namely, that of feeling everything 


322 



to be true and good which brings immediate practical advantage. 
When an Englishman feels anything for any reason to be un¬ 
pleasant, he concludes — in his subconsciousness — to call it 
wrong or untrue. Thus he has the singular faculty of being per¬ 
fidious not only to others, but to himself, and he exerts his talent 
with the clearest conscience, which is perfectly natural since it 
is an instinct that he is satisfying. Cant is something that may be 
described as honest deceit or the gift of cheating oneself. 

The two most infamous blots on the reign of Elizabeth are the 
executions of Essex and of Mary Queen of Scots. On both occa¬ 
sions she was, as queen and as politician, in the right, for Essex was 
a traitor, and Mary the head of many dangerous conspiracies. 
What does bring discredit on her is that she not merely pursued 
justice to its bloody end, but that she sought to get a reputation for 
womanly gentleness and Christian mercy out of it all as well. 
Nor can any reasonable man reproach her for her many lovers, 
but only for the cool tartufierie with which she allowed herself 
throughout her reign to be celebrated as the Virgin Queen and 
permitted Walter Raleigh (who must himself have known better) 
to call the first English colony Virginia in her honour. In this 
respect she fell far lower than her deadly rival Mary, who prob¬ 
ably committed as many crimes in her life, but none with such 
coldblooded deliberation, and certainly “ strayed ” both less often 
and more frankly. When Mary’s lover Bothwell blew her hus¬ 
band Darnley into the air, the whole of Scotland rose in insurrec¬ 
tion, but when Elizabeth’s favourite Leicester poisoned his wife, 
public opinion was silent, for things had been managed far more 
cleverly; still, cleverness has never yet been regarded as an ex¬ 
tenuating circumstance in a murder case. 

On Elizabeth’s death, after fifty-five years’ reign, she was suc¬ 
ceeded by James I, son of Mary Stuart and great-grandson of 
Margaret Tudor; he united both crowns, uniting, however, at the 
same time the evil qualities of both the rival houses — the domi¬ 
neering obstinacy and arrogance of the Tudors and the inertia 
and moral irresponsibility of the Stuarts. His father was prob¬ 
ably Mary’s secretary, the ugly David Rizzio, who was bestially 
murdered by Darnley. His figure was fat and ungainly, his head 
thick, and his beard thin, his eyes bulging, his speech stammering 
and unmusical; men said that he spat out rather than articulated 


323 



The 

Elizabethan 

man 


his words. He was unusually timid and distrustful, could not look 
on a naked sword, and spent his life in fear of conspiracy and 
assassination. He was as childishly vain as his predecessor, but 
far less intelligent, for he tolerated only views that agreed with 
his own. He was particularly proud of his theological education, 
and frequently used it to the horror of his court in the most hair¬ 
splitting debates. His second passion was for handsome young 
men, and such could get anything from him, however insignificant 
or common they might be. Despite the nervous movements, his 
clumsy gait and boorish manners that made him the reverse of 
royal, no ruler was ever so convinced of his divine right as he. He 
regarded himself as the unlimited dictator over the life, property, 
and thoughts of his subjects, and that at a time anything but pro¬ 
pitious, and among a people anything but amenable, to such views. 
As, further, he lacked all political insight and ability, he was con¬ 
tinuously at loggerheads with his Parliament, though open revolt 
was postponed till his successor’s time. At the end of his reign 
the saying was that Great Britain is smaller than Britain. 

Nevertheless these hundred years form the first great age of 
England’s glory. Trade, industry, seamanship, science, art, and 
literature developed even to over-ripeness. London in Elizabeth’s 
time was a city of three hundred thousand souls, with countless 
shops, an important Exchange, a permanent market, and almost 
twenty permanent theatres. The streets were carefully laid out, 
the water-supply regulated through wooden pipes, lighting and 
fire-police much improved. There were many well-ordered 
schools, apothecaries’ shops, printing establishments, and even 
something like newspapers. The Thames was packed with gaily 
decorated boats; an unbroken stream of pedestrians, horsemen, 
and litters enlivened the city; the upper classes already used 
coaches, and their new country-houses, of the Tudor style, were 
effective, practical, inviting, and (in contrast to the continental 
villas) built primarily to be lived in: already the Englishman’s 
taste for prosperous and pleasant domesticity was displaying it¬ 
self. Clothes were brave, rich, well looked after, and not lacking 
in taste. Ordinary comforts, however, were not much in advance 
of the Middle Ages; sleeping-arrangements were still primitive, 
table-forks were not used, and meals were chiefly remarkable for 
the quantity consumed; for ordinary use wooden utensils were 


324 



preferred. Tobacco was a new luxury, which had first been recom¬ 
mended by Jean Nicot for medical uses, but was very soon domes¬ 
ticated by Drake’s and Raleigh’s sailors; even by the end of the 
century it was in common use, smoked, however, not as by the 
Indians in cigarette form, but exclusively in a pipe. The clergy 
opposed smoking, and the doctrinaire James also forbade it on 
theological grounds, but he soon found it to be a useful source of 
revenue. The tobacco-shops, in which lessons were given in smok¬ 
ing, were packed, the gilded youth entered the theatres with reek¬ 
ing pipes, and Raleigh was reproached with puffing clouds of 
smoke even at Essex’s execution. 

The average education of the upper classes stood on a pretty 
high level: everyone, women as well as men, read Latin poets and 
philosophers, sang and made music, studied mathematics and 
astronomy. Conversation was witty and exquisite, even though 
made artificial with euphuisms. On the other hand, there was 
plenty of crudity still. Law was as barbaric as ever. The three 
greatest dramatists next to Shakspere — Peele, Greene, and Mar¬ 
lowe — were mere drunkards and heroes of the knife; James was 
an absolute clown; even Queen Bess was delighted when the 
people cried to her in the streets: “ How goes it, old whore ? ” and 
would use vulgar expressions of the sea in the middle of a cultured 
conversation or, when roused, could brawl like a fishwife. Her dis¬ 
pute with Essex is famous: when he cried: “Your mind is as 
crooked as your carcass,” she replied: “ Go and hang thyself ” and 
gave him a box on the ears. 

The men of the so-called English Renaissance, which reached The aruj\ 
its height under Elizabeth, were, in fact, a mixture of unrestrained 
elemental humanity and modern Englishness, a cross between a 
tough, shrewd man of affairs and a wild, reckless adventurer. 

Their attitude is precisely defined by the term u merchant ad¬ 
venturers ?? — merchants and seamen who were robber-knights of 
the sea, roaming (at first on their own initiative and later with the 
support of royal privileges) over all the coasts of east and west, but 
also founding trading factories and instituting trade relations. It 
was, indeed, piracy with protection and profit-sharing by the 
State; in time of war it was called privateering. The great admirals, 
circumnavigators, conquerors, and colonizers — Drake, Raleigh, 

Hawkins, Essex, and the other sea-dogs of Elizabethan times 

3 25 



were nothing but corsairs; and the trading companies, conces¬ 
sionaire companies for the raiding of lands overseas, were some¬ 
what similar. Smuggling, robbing, and the slave-trade stood beside 
the cradle of English, and indeed all modern, capitalism. 

For two reasons. In the first place, all trade and finance are 
only a sort of deception that has been civilized and set in orderly 
paths. We have seen in chapter iii how great were the difficulties, 
moral and social, under which the transition from natural econ¬ 
omy and pure handicraft to gold economy and trade for trade’s 
sake was effected. If, now, these handicaps are worse at the outset 
than later, the periods of transition often produce in correlation 
and compensation the great men who recognize no limitations. 
But it is so with every innovation — in religion, art, science, and 
sociology—it is met at its birth by disfavour, since it has against 
it the “ good conscience ” of previous realities, and it is therefore 
bound to appear in antisocial forms, as a paralogism, as “ ro¬ 
mance,” as criminality. And just as even the respectable, peace- 
loving merchants of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries still 
visibly display the traits of their ancestors, the pirate and robber- 
knight, so also we can discover in the present-day cosmopolitan 
financier the descendant of the chevalier d’Industrie, the gambler, 
and the cheat. The times we are now considering were the 
“ awkward age ” of capitalism, when industry showed itself in 
exuberant and tumultuous forms, in the character of some fever 
or ecstasy or child’s disease. No one could escape the infection, as 
we shall see in a moment: not even the clearest and wisest head in 
England and the whole age. The visible symbol of this merchant 
spirit was the great Exchange in London which the court banker 
Sir Thomas Gresham handed over for financial traffic in 1571. 

Parallel with the economic transformation, there came a great 
uprising in the exact sciences. In the first half of the century, as we 
have seen, there had been a number of important developments in 
mathematics and cosmology, in medicine, chemistry, zoology, and 
geography, and these researches were continued, and in some cases 
completed, during the next two generations. Frangois Vieta ele¬ 
vated algebra into a science, began its application to geometry, 
and advanced the calculation of circles by investigations into the 
value of t; Geronimo Cardano discovered the formula for the 
solution of cubic equations, and in the imaginaries of the type V-l 

4 

326 



he made a discovery of incalculable importance. John Napier 
published the first logarithmic tables with the title “ mirifici loga- 
rithmorum canonis descriptio the Dutch doctor van Helmont 
discovered airlike substances that are yet different from air (the 
gases), and substances which are able to set up dissociative proc¬ 
esses in the body-juices (the ferments). Kaspar Bauhin described 
all known plants according to their root, their stalk and leaf- 
formation, their flower, fruit, and seeding processes, gave them a 
double name according to genus and species, and was thus the 
most important predecessor of Linnseus. Piccolomini by his ac¬ 
count of the tissues laid the foundations of general anatomy; 
Coiter those of pathological anatomy; Pare those of surgery; and 
Palissy, by maintaining unhesitatingly that fossilized animal 
forms were survivals of organisms which had lived on the earth in 
earlier periods, those of palaeontology. 

The most astonishing successes, however, were in physics and 
astronomy. William Gilbert, Elizabeth’s own physician, was the 
founder of theoretical electricity and magnetism, and even then 
recognized that the earth was itself a great magnet, (whence he 
called the spherical magnet with which he experimented Terella , 
little earth). The Dutchman Simon Stevin, who was notable also 
as a fortress engineer and as the inventor of the ice-yacht, was 
the first to investigate (in his hypomnemata mathematic a) the 
mechanical properties of the inclined plane and, by the law of the 
parallelogram of forces and the principle of virtual displacements, 
laid the foundations of modern statics. He also made a number of 
fruitful researches in hydrostatics and amongst other things dis¬ 
covered the “ hydrostatic paradox ” that the surface pressure in a 
vessel which is wider at the top is less, and that in one which nar¬ 
rows towards the top is greater, than the weight of the liquid con¬ 
cerned ; he proved also that in connected tubes the level of water 
is always the same even when the diameters are different. The 
great Danish astronomer Tycho de Brahe observed the conjunc¬ 
tion of Jupiter and Saturn, discovered a new star in Cassiopeia 
and, with the help of the King, constructed a splendid observa¬ 
tory; later, being compelled by theological persecution to leave 
his country, he died in Prague as astronomer royal to the Em¬ 
peror Rudolf. There he had Kepler as his assistant, and it was 
the unparalleled exactness of his calculations and tables that made 


327 



possible his pupil’s later discoveries. In a certain sense, indeed, his 
system was a retrogression, for, though he assumed the planets to 
move round the sun, he made the sun revolve round the earth, and 
thus restored the earth again to the centre of the universe. He 
arrived at this conclusion by arguing that, if the Copernican sys¬ 
tem were sound, the earth would be at quite different distances 
from the individual groups of stars in early spring and autumn 
and that therefore the chart of the fixed stars would present a very 
different appearance at these respective seasons. He could not at 
that date imagine the enormous cosmic distances that make this 
apparently quite justifiable objection pointless. 

The world The invention of the telescope was as much in the air at the 
telescope beginning of the sixteenth century as the discovery of America 
had been a hundred years before. It was constructed in 1608 by 
Hans Lippershey, whose priority was disputed by Zacharias 
Jansen, and in the next year was again invented quite independ¬ 
ently by Galileo. In 1611, in his Dioptric, Kepler laid down the 
date for the construction of the so-called astronomical telescope, 
which the Jesuit Father Scheiner realized in 1613. At the same 
period Galileo was observing the mountains of the moon, the ring 
of Saturn, the sun-spots, whose movements showed him the rota¬ 
tion of the sun, and the moons of Jupiter — this last a fatal dis¬ 
covery for the adherents of the old doctrines, since it proved that 
the world of Jupiter was a reduced copy of the planetary system 
and that a stellar body might very well form a centre of movement 
and yet have movement of its own. But his discoveries extended 
further still, and in 1610 he wrote to a friend: “ I have also noted 
a multitude of fixed stars that have never been seen and which in 
number exceeds those visible to the eye tenfold; and I know now 
what the Milky Way is, about which the wise men of all ages have 
disputed.” He was no less great as a physicist — the founder of 
dynamics, a wholly new science, unknown to the ancients, who 
had only worked on statics; the discoverer of the theory of the 
projectile motion and of free falling (to which the swinging of a 
lamp in the Cathedral of Pisa is said to have brought him); the 
formulator of the law of inertia, the inventor of the hydrostatic 
balance and the thermometer. 

The ideas of Galileo were so disturbing that there were men 
who refused to look into his telescope, for fear of seeing in it things 

328 



which might upset the earlier philosophy and even the Church. 
Legend makes him a martyr to freedom of thought, from whom a 
recantation was forced by the powers of darkness. But this school¬ 
book story is not quite accurate. The truth is that many clerical 
dignitaries, and even Pope Urban VIII, showed the greatest inter¬ 
est in his researches and saw nothing objectionable in them. The 
real reason for the persecution that he had to endure was his mor¬ 
bid sensibility and dogmatism, his lack of tact and ability to 
handle men, and his predilection (rooted in the habits of Hu¬ 
manism) for mingling religious speculations with exact investi¬ 
gation, a proceeding which his contemporaries rightly thought 
not only irreligious, but unscientific. It must be admitted, how¬ 
ever, that the envy of his colleagues contributed. In his chief 
astronomical work, in which according to the custom of the times 
he worked out his ideas in dialogue form, there occurred a ridicu¬ 
lous figure called Simplicius, who brought the most absurd 
obj ections against the new theory; Simplicius was meant as a skit 
on the Aristotelians, but Galileo’s enemies managed to persuade 
the Pope that it was aimed at him, and it was only then that 
Urban, who was no less intelligent and free-thinking than he was 
vain and irritable, began to move against Galileo. He was sen¬ 
tenced to imprisonment (which, incidentally, was not very rigor¬ 
ous), and his books, with all others that taught the heliocentric 
system, were put on the Index. This was the beginning of the op¬ 
position between the Catholic Church and the new astronomy; 
Copernicus, as we have seen, had dedicated his work to the Pope, 
Jesuits (such as the Father Scheiner above mentioned) took an 
active part in research, and the Jesuit Grimberger declared that 
if Galileo had had the sense to secure the goodwill of the Jesuits, 
he might have written about anything, even a reversal of the 
earth’s motion. All the same, the Church by its attitude injured 
itself far more than the scientists whom it persecuted, for it be¬ 
came involved in a vital conflict with all progressive forces of the 
next centuries, and in that it was bound to succumb. 

Side by side with Galileo, Kepler was working. In 1607 he dis¬ 
covered Halley’s comet — the first whose return was noted and 
has since been regularly noted at intervals of 76 f years (on the 
last occasion in 1910) — developed in his Dioptric the ideas of 
refraction and the. theory of vision, worked out the true permanent 

329 



The char¬ 
acter of 
Bacon 


foundations of planetary paths, and laid the permanent founda¬ 
tions of our view of the structure of the solar system in the so- 
called “ Kepler’s Laws ”: according to which, firstly, all planets 
move in ellipses of which one of the foci is the sun; secondly, the 
radius of each planet sweeps over equal areas in equal times; and 
thirdly, the squares of the periodic times of the planets are pro¬ 
portional to the cubes of their mean distances from the sun. The 
corollary was that one uniform and strict law and one regularly 
operative force controls our whole planetary system, and indeed 
the whole universe. 

All these economic, social, and scientific tendencies were put 
together by Bacon in his philosophy. He stood at the summit of 
his times in every sense of the phrase, a notable politician, 
Attorney-General, Keeper of the Great Seal, Lord Chancellor, 
Baron Verulam, and Viscount St. Albans. The whole world looked 
up to him as to a centre of light; and this has made the importance 
of his philosophic achievements seem greater, and his moral de¬ 
fects more outstanding, than they were. Even nowadays there is 
no unanimity about his character. Macaulay, with that judicial 
attitude of his that makes him love to play the advocate or public 
prosecutor, has condemned Bacon completely, while others, still 
more one-sidedly, have tried to prove him wholly spotless. The 
two great scandals in which his career was involved were the 
action of Elizabeth against Essex and of James against himself. 
Essex, who thought himself slighted by the Queen, had, in the 
passionate, ill-considered way that was natural to him, started a 
rebellion against her which was at once repressed. In his defence 
he maintained that his movement had been directed only against 
his most powerful rival, Raleigh, who had threatened his life. He 
received the death sentence with the greatest composure. During 
the trial, in which he was intimately concerned, Bacon argued in 
the most unsparing spirit against Essex, the man who had been a 
lifelong friend and to whom he owed his innumerable favours and 
recommendations. He compared him to Henri of Guise, the head 
of the anti-dynastic party in France, to Absalom, who rose against 
his father, to Pisistratus, who disguised his plans of usurpation by 
proclaiming that he was the subject of murderous plots and dis¬ 
playing self-inflicted wounds as evidence of this fact. After Essex’s 
execution Bacon, on orders from the Queen, who saw her position 


i in 



weakened by the sentence on the popular favourite, wrote an 
“ account of the intrigues and plots attempted and done by the 
late Robert, Earl of Essex and his fellows,” in which he not only 
repeated all his earlier charges in the foulest terms, but further 
accused the dead man — certainly unjustly—of having made 
common cause with the Irish rebels, against whom he had been 
sent as general, and having concerted an armed descent on Eng¬ 
land with the object of murdering the Queen and setting himself 
in her place. Twenty years later, at the height of his fame and 
power, Bacon was himself accused of having taken bribes in his 
capacity as judge and — on the evidence of numerous witnesses 
and on his own admissions — was unanimously condemned to a 
fine and banishment to his estates, where he at last had the leisure 
to write the work which his pursuit of wealth and influence had so 
far denied him. Corruption of officials was perfectly usual in those 
times, and if Bacon in particular was made the object of attack, it 
was not because he had been guilty of especially shocking faults, 
but because the intention was to strike at the whole in the person 
of an especially vulnerable representative of it. It was for that 
reason that the King implored Bacon to accept the verdict without 
opposition, and promised to rehabilitate him at the first favour¬ 
able opportunity, if he would, by his non-resistance, facilitate the 
extension of the campaign; for that reason, too, Bacon refrained 
from all defence, though with his great reputation, his extraordi¬ 
nary gifts of oratory, and the lax view generally taken of such 
offences as his, his prospects were by no means hopeless. 

Both these offences, then, which have brought so much sub¬ 
sequent odium on Bacon’s name, had their source in a boundless 
servility to the Court, an almost morbid fear of royal disfavour 
and public dismissal. In order to win the Queen’s favour, he wrote 
to order that libellous attack on the memory of his friend; lest he 
should lose the King’s favour, he sacrificed his own good name in 
posterity’s eyes by his failure to make any attempt at self-defence. 
If we may attempt to sum up his character, we should say that he 
was certainly neither a mean nor an ill-natured man (on the con¬ 
trary even his enemies describe him as kindly, helpful, affable, free 
from arrogance, and — what was almost unique at that time — 
free from vengefulness); but he was a weak man, and a cold man, 
and however strange it may sound in a man of Bacon’s reputation, 



Bacon as 
f/uloso'pher 


an unphilosophical man. For, if it be one of the fundamental 
qualities of a philosopher to despise actualities, Bacon was no 
philosopher; he could not live without titles, offices, dignities, the 
smile of the monarch, and the bows of courtiers, without horses, 
estates, robes, silver plate, and lackeys. Honours, power, wealth, 
transitory enjoyment, and empty show meant more to him than 
peace and knowledge. 

We might even question if he does not show himself as little 
a philosopher in his works as in his deeds. The common view is 
that his life was as disgraceful and shameful as his achievement is 
glorious and incomparable. But there is much to be said for the 
argument that both views are false and exaggerated. 

Bacon’s philosophy, as its titles show, is meant to be nothing 
more and nothing less than an Instauratio Magna, a great re¬ 
newal of science, a Novum Organum and the greatest creation of 
the time. “ Truth is a daughter of her age,” said Bacon, and what 
he aimed at therefore was a philosophy that would be the legiti¬ 
mate daughter of her times, the extract and sum of all the expe¬ 
riences, discoveries, and advances of the day. His observations are, 
therefore, in contrast to Nietzsche’s, “ topical ” in the highest 
degree. His object is to take the pulse of his age and diagnose its 
condition. But his object is also to make a prognosis and point 
the way to new victories; as he said in the preface to his chief 
work, he assumed the role of the fingerpost. He hoped to achieve 
both aims by constructing a system of purely empirical philos¬ 
ophy. In his view, philosophy had hitherto been dominated by 
premisses which the reason assumed as something given, without 
regard for the real nature of things (a method which he defined as 
that of “ anticipations ”), and he opposed to it a new method of 
investigation, which he called that of “interpretations,” which 
aims at the exact and basic understanding of nature. Reason must 
expound nature as a good interpreter does an author, by entering 
into her spirit as closely as possible, and this can be achieved, not 
by high-flying ideas and unworldly speculations, but only by 
patient submission to nature: “ natura parendo vincitur.” To 
that end we must rid ourselves, above all, of the prejudices and 
delusions, the “ idola,” which hold our spirit captive. Bacon dis¬ 
tinguishes four classes of such idols; the first are the delusions 
which flow from the special character of the individual, and since 





they are lost in the indefinite and dark places, the caverns of our 
hearts, he called them the “ idol a specus these, however, are too 
manifold and incalculable to admit of closer observation and dis¬ 
cussion. The second class is derived from tradition, respect for 
the authority of others’ opinions, being blindly trusted although 
they are as much fiction as the stories of the stage; hence they are 
called “ idola theatri.” Thirdly, as a result of our habit of putting 
words in the place of realities, there arises the confusion of con¬ 
ventional signs of things with the things themselves, of values of 
the market-places with real values; and hence come the “ idola 
fori in this class come the first beginnings of language-criticism. 
The fourth class, the biggest and most dangerous, the hardest to 
recognize and the most difficult to overcome, are the “idola 
tribus” the delusions native to our species which unceasingly 
compel us to translate physical nature into human, whereby the 
original loses its properties and takes on the spirit of the trans¬ 
lator. The human soul is a mirror of reality, but it is a mirror 
ground in such a way that while reflecting things it yet alters them. 
But it is wrong to regard human senses as the measure of things. 
This might appear to be the beginning of a phenomenalistic view, 
but Bacon meant something very different from Kant and his 
school; for what he calls “ nature ” is not a creation of our intel¬ 
ligence, a product of our forms of apperception, but something 
whose true being human consciousness can well perceive if it 
only succeeds in ridding itself of the “ idola.” Bacon is so little of 
a philosophical idealist that he loses no opportunity of denying 
the epistemological value of transcendental ideas and (as we shall 
see in a moment) shudders at the application of abstract mathe¬ 
matical speculations to the study of nature. 

To him the surest way to the knowledge of nature-in-itself, 
nature as it really is, is the method of induction, based on observa¬ 
tion and experiment and cautiously advancing from fact to fact; 
this he declares to be the only sure and fruitful way, not only in 
physics and the other natural sciences, but also in psychology, 
logic, ethics, and politics; and in this standpoint we have a 
premonition that heralded a whole series of valuable studies which 
were only attacked successfully several generations later. In order 
to give certainty and validity to inductive conclusions, it is neces¬ 
sary persistently and carefully to observe “ negative instances ” 



Bacon 

before 

Bacon 


that is, the instances which are the exception to a hitherto valid 
rule, for a single such instance is enough to turn a rule into an ido- 
lon. Now, once conscientious observation and prudent conclusion 
have collected an irreproachable body of empirical material, the 
gates of the infinite world of discovery are open. The higher and 
higher perfection of this process is Bacon’s favourite theme, and 
when he talks of it, his imagination rises to poetic heights. Yet this 
does not by any means imply that his philosophy is narrowly utili¬ 
tarian. Among the experiments which are to be the most powerful 
tool for the progressive conquest of nature, he distinguishes those 
that bring light, and those that bear fruit, the former leading to 
new axioms, the latter to new discoveries; but he emphasizes par¬ 
ticularly that they are the less valuable the more they lead to mere 
profit instead of the illumination of nature. He even scorned the 
mechanical activities of manual and factory workers in a way 
which aroused Goethe to reproach. On the basis of his new attitude 
to the world of ideas Bacon finally constructed a map of the 
“ globus intellectualis a catalogue, division, and description of 
all the sciences, and in the process built up out of his own head a 
number of new subjects, such as the history of literature — which 
he saw with fine insight to be part of the history of civilization — 
the history of medicine, comparative philology, the science of 
trade, and stenography. 

It will probably be clear already, even from this short expose, 
that Bacon’s philosophical system, though it contains a great 
many ingenious and stimulating ideas, has little claim either to 
depth or to novelty. He asserts, indeed, in the Novum Organum 
that induction is the true way, which none had tried before him, 
but in the very formulating of this axiom he has himself fallen a 
victim to an idolon, since even a superficial survey of the history 
of philosophy shows a number of negative instances. Even 
Aristotle, whom he so despised, knew well enough how to handle 
the inductive weapon, the Alexandrines used it with magnificent 
results on the most diverse departments of knowledge, and the 
whole of the Renaissance is filled with the Baconian tendency, in 
some cases obscurely, in others quite consciously. Bacon’s con¬ 
temporary the Italian natural-philosopher Tommaso Campanella, 
taught that the aim of all “ velle ” is “ -posse but that “ posse ” 
itself was only attainable through “ nosse,” and summed up his 


334 



teaching m the phrase tantTim possnmxiSy Quantum scvmuSy* 
which is more or less identical with Bacon’s famous motto “ Wis¬ 
dom is power.” Bernardino Telesio, who was born at Cosenza two 
generations before Campanella, the originator of the Telesian (or 
better the Cosentine) Academy in Naples, set up as a guiding 
principle that nature must be explained out of herself. Even older 
than Telesio was the Spaniard Ludovicus Vives, a contemporary 
of Erasmus. He, too, strove for the elimination of the subjective 
element from the observation of nature and wished to found all 
science on experience and to replace metaphysics by direct in¬ 
vestigation and experiment; and he is far fairer to the ancients 
than Bacon was — “ The true disciples of Aristotle,” he taught, 
“ question nature herself, as the ancients also did.” But the most 
astonishing resemblances exist between Francis Bacon and Roger 
Bacon, the “ doctor mirabilis who lived during the greater part 
of the thirteenth century, or three hundred years before his name¬ 
sake. From Arabian and Greek writings, and by personal observa¬ 
tion, he had acquired an uncommon knowledge of mathematics, 
mechanics, optics, and chemistry, and he sought to build up on 
them an empirical philosophy in opposition to the Scholasticism 
which was then at its height. According to him there are two kinds 
of knowledge: the one leading through proof to conclusions, which, 
however, can never bring to light truths wholly free from doubt; 
the other working through experiment as the only way to assured 
knowledge: “ sine experientia nihil sufficienter sciri potest 
“ Experientia again, has itself two sides, external through the 
senses and internal by meditation; the latter form, which is quite 
as important as the former, being almost wholly ignored by the 
younger Bacon. Further, Roger Bacon recognized mathematics 
as the basis of all natural science, in which again his insight sur¬ 
passed that of his successor. Another distinction between them 
was that Roger knew how to make his theories fruitful: thus he 
invented magnifying glasses, reformed the Julian calendar, and 
produced a compound very similar to gunpowder. On the other 
hand, the theories of the two men again often show astounding 
similarities. Roger Bacon mentions four “ offendicula ” to knowl¬ 
edge, which bar the way to truth: respect for authority, custom, 
dependence on the everyday view of the masses, and the unteach¬ 
ability of our natural sense—thus almost exactly equating the 


33C 



idola. He prophesied an inconceivable extension of human ca¬ 
pacity for invention and we are reminded of Francis Bacon in his 
fantastic constructions of new possibilities, his flying machines, 
vehicles which move without draught-animals, and boats which 
can be propelled more quickly by one man than by four rowers. 
We have here, therefore, another strange case parallel to that of 
Erasmus Darwin, who more or less completely anticipated the 
famous theories of his namesake Charles Darwin on inheritance, 
adaptation, methods of self-preservation, and struggle for 
survival. 

Bacon’s Novelty, it is true, is no criterion of the greatness of a philos- 

, • _ * 

■philosophy 0 P h y- Bacon’s misfortune, however, is that if his philosophy does 
not possess novelty (which is generally claimed for it) it possesses 
nothing at all. It is not a manageable and effective methodology in 
the modern sense, and it did not take Bacon or other contempo¬ 
rary investigators a step forward. These contemporaries were 
Galileo and Kepler, and he had as fellow-countrymen Gilbert and 
Harvey, the two greatest geniuses of the English Renaissance, yet, 
so far from helping them, he did not even understand them. He 
rejected their achievement, as of necessity he had to do on the 
basis of his own theory. For this had two catastrophic weaknesses. 
In the first place, Bacon had no sense of the value of creative 
intuition, which is the finest part of research, even of the exactest. 
As Goethe said in his “ Farbenlehre “ Everything on the phe¬ 
nomenal plane was the same to him.” There was no place in his 
Philistine method for the illumination of genius which sees vivid 
analogies that could never be brought out by the purely empirical 
observation and comparison of facts, or for the audacious capacity 
which overleaps a hundred unimportant links in an argument, to 
reach the one that solves and reveals all. He would never have 
understood the saying of Gauss — a grand genius of exact re¬ 
search if ever there was one — “I have got my results long ago, 
but I have not known how to reach them.” That, too, is the reason 
for his unfairness to the Classics; and yet the syllogistic theory of 
Aristotle, on whom he looked so contemptuously, still has its use 
today, while his Novum Organum, which was to replace it and do 
away with it, retains but a historical interest. The second defect, 
as has already been indicated, is the almost inexplicable failure to 
see the fundamental importance of mathematics for strict nature- 

336 



research. Yet this was just the revolutionary and creative feature 
of the new learning. Leonardo was its author and he laid it down 
that “ no human study can be called true science if it is not given 
in the form of mathematical demonstrations.” Kepler taught the 
same: “ There is no true knowledge unless there is a knowledge of 
quanta ”; and Galileo: “ The book of the universe is written in 
mathematical letters.” The test of the correctness of these prin¬ 
ciples was to be found in the new view of the structure of the 
universe. 

It was not the lofty speculations by which the human mind 
during the next generations began to elucidate the structure and 
laws of the cosmos, the earth, its organisms, and the forces work¬ 
ing therein that were guided on their way by Bacon, but only the 
more technological and material sciences of civic utility. We have 
shown briefly, and will repeat again, that he himself did not 
father such a purely utilitarian movement and always set the 
value of knowledge above practical use. But the tendency to the 
latter was inherent in his method. Macaulay did not interpret 
Bacon’s aims justly, but he did draw their inevitable consequences 
when he maintained in his famous essay (which incidentally is a 
masterpiece of compact and variegated dialectic) that the aim of 
the Baconian philosophy was the multiplication of human com¬ 
forts and the mitigation of human suffering, and that it therefore 
outflanked all earlier systems, which had scorned to subordinate 
themselves to well-being and progress and had been content to 
remain immovably on the same spot. He quotes a remark of 
Seneca to the effect that if it is the office of philosophy to make 
discoveries and teach men the use of their hands instead of edu¬ 
cating their souls, it might rightly be argued that the first shoe¬ 
maker was a philosopher, and adds himself that if he had to chlose 
for himself between the author of the “ De Ira ” and the first 
shoemaker, he would take the side of the shoemaker. “ It may 
be worse to be angry than to get wet; but shoes have saved millions 
from the wet, but we doubt if Seneca has succeeded in protecting 
a single man from his anger.” It is unnecessary to go more deeply 
into this: the story of every religion teaches us that philosophy is 
able to arm us against worse things than damp and anger, and this 
conclusion shows us what sort of philosophy Bacon developed and, 
we may add, necessarily developed in his disciples — a philosophy 

337 



for shoemakers or, to put it more elegantly, for discoverers of 
systems of foot-protection and apparatus for salvation from the 
damp. Macaulay continues: “ If the tree which Socrates planted 
and Plato watered is to be judged by its flowers and leaves, it is 
the noblest of trees. But if we take the homely test of Bacon, if we 
judge the tree by its fruits, our opinion may be less favourable. 
When we sum up all the useful truths which we owe to that philos¬ 
ophy, to what do they amount? ... A pedestrian may show as 
much vigour on treadmill as on the high-road. But on the road his 
vigour will assuredly carry him forward, while the treadmill will 
not move a foot forward. The old philosophy was treadmill and 
not a high-road.” These sentences give us the essence of the whole 
utilitarian position, which derives from Bacon. Macaulay scorns 
the idea that the end of a tree could be in its flowering: trees are 
obviously created only to supply men with fruit, and philosophies 
to throw out useful truths. It does not occur to Macaulay, while 
he is collecting these truths, that truth and use are things differ¬ 
ent in kind, and in most cases mutually exclusive; and it is thus 
not surprising if the balance weighs so heavily against Plato. 
Truths have no justification unless they fatten men by their fruits, 
nor flowers unless as preliminary stages for such nutrient prod¬ 
ucts ; leaves have no value except as fuel for burning; a philosophy 
which is an end in itself has no end. Men who occupy themselves 
with such speculations move on a treadmill, wasting their muscu¬ 
lar energy, whereas if they were on the high-road they might be 
using it profitably and progressively — for instance, in the trans¬ 
port of manure or the measurement of distances along the road. 
But obviously a pedestrian who wanders about to learn the 
beauties of the way, or simply to give his vital energies free play, 
is as meaningless and worthless as one on a treadmill, and a phi¬ 
losophy that does so is folly or vagabondage. 

Bacon’s If, then, Bacon’s philosophy was at bottom an anti-philosophy, 
fame anc [ mo reover was not new and not even scientifically valuable, to 
what does it owe the colossal influence which it possessed over its 
age and even over later generations ? For qualities of some sort it 
must have had. “ Unceasingly,” says Emerson, “ nature refines 
her water and her wine; no filter could be more perfect. What fear¬ 
ful testing must a work have undergone to appear again after 
twenty years, or still more to be printed after a hundred years! It 

338 



is as though Minos and Rhadamanthus had given it their seal.” 
Mankind is not wont to scatter its honours broadcast; ex nikilo 
nihil fit, and where there is smoke, there must be, or must have 
been, some fire. 

One of the chief reasons for the extraordinary influence of 
Bacon’s works lies in the fact that he was the greatest writer of 
his age and one of the greatest of all English prose-writers. He 
knew the secret of uniting colour with lucidity, content with clear¬ 
ness. His pen marked out in unforgettably sharp and brilliant 
outline whatever it touched. His speeches are described in his 
youth by Ben Jonson as containing some deep and earnest judg¬ 
ments, turned so easily and charmingly, with thoughts so strictly 
and thoroughly worked out, that he kept the attention of his 
hearers always strained and everyone feared the moment for him 
to stop. The essence of his style is mature splendour; its bril¬ 
liance, richness, and colour are not won at the cost of solidity, 
order, and depth. His imagery differs wholly from that of Shak- 
spere, whose poetry is dominated by a rush of pictures which 
gathers together a whole world of intercrossing and jostling 
similes. Bacon, rather, had a restrained art of portraiture which 
merely seems to put things clearly before us. Shakspere uses his 
metaphors to suggest. Bacon to elucidate. Thus he says of philos¬ 
ophy that a drop from its cup leads to unbelief, but that if we drain 
the cup, we become truly religious; that ethics has only thus far 
given us copy-books, but has not taught us how to hold the pen 
in writing. The wisdom of Greece he compares to a child which is 
ripe for chatter, but not of age to propagate itself; the philosophy 
of the Middle Ages to a consecrated nun who is shut within the 
cloister and kept unfruitful; the works of Aristotle to light tab¬ 
lets which, by their lack of weight, have been kept afloat down 
the stream while what was heavier and deeper had sunk; and the 
truth to the naked light of day, in which the masks, mummeries, 
and adornments of the world seem not half so fair and stately as 
in the candlelight of lies. In his De dignitate et augmentis scien- 
tiarum he says impressively that nature shines upon us directly, 
God (whom we can only know through nature) in broken light, 
and our own being (to which we come by self-reflection) in 
mirrored light; and, in the Novum. Organum, that mere expe¬ 
rience does as ants do who know only how to hoard; that the 


339 



reason left to its own resources is like spiders, who bring forth 
their web from themselves, but that meditative experience, like 
bees, both gathers and sifts. Famous, too, is his remark that if we 
want to pass from the kingdom of nature to that of revelation, we 
must change from the boat of experience in which we have sailed 
round the world, into the ship of the Church. These happy similes, 
which streamed in on him spontaneously and permeated his whole 
writings, made every subject that he touched attractive and pic- 
turable. They enlivened even his conversation: he said to Essex 
once that his dominating manner to the Queen was like hot-water 
cures, which help for a time, but if continued, do harm; and that 
military fame and popular favour were like the wings of Icarus, 
fastened with wax. 

The second reason for his influence we have already men¬ 
tioned; it is that he expressed the impulse of his age, with its pas¬ 
sionate devotion to the pursuit of knowledge and power, in im¬ 
pressive formulae, far-flung slogans, and flaming labels; he gave 
his century the voice it needed. Thus his significance was, in the 
best sense the word can ever have, journalistic. He was the pol¬ 
ished mirror in which the Elizabethans could look with delight 
on their own picture; and, more than that, he anticipated the type 
of the Englishman, which only fully developed in the course of 
many generations. He stands before us, the cool, well-informed, 
far-seeing Englishman, with his passionate positivism, his prac¬ 
tical genius, his healthy mixture of logic and adaptability, his 
sense of realities and capacity for empire — gentleman, scholar, 
and traveller in one person, with a compass in one hand and The 
Times in the other. 

The But the real novum organum, the true encyclopaedia, the 
Aot kiag instauratio magna and creature of the times, was not Bacon, but 
the man about whom his contemporaries thought the only thin g 
worth recording was the fact that he was once “wanted” for 
poaching, that he managed with fair success one of the many 
London theatres, and died in his native town as a moderately 
wealthy speculator in real estate. Bacon never once mentions him, 
not even when he is speaking of dramatic poetry, which inciden¬ 
tally he rated very low; for what could such a serious thinker, so 
noble a lord, or an age ringing with Armada conquests, colonial 
politics, and scientific progress see noteworthy in such comedy- 

340 



mongers ? Yet such is the way of men; they aim to have their lives 
elevated, the meaning of the hour explained to them, beauty dis¬ 
played, and they strain feverishly and violently to see if there is 
a light to be found on the horizon. But there is no sign, for it is 
not to be found on the horizon. It flames up in their midst, at 
their side, within them — just where they never look. A poet, 
they think, should rise up like a distant dazzling sun, in blood- 
red pomp of colour. But there are no pompous poets: the true 
poet always moves about incognito, like a king in fairy-tales. He 
speaks to his people, but is not answered; all glances pass him 
by. Later there comes one and tells them who it really was, but 
in the mean time the disgusted king has vanished. Two hundred 
years after Shakspere men came who asked: “ Do you know who 
this little actor and maker-up was ? It was William Shakspere.” 
There was general astonishment, but Shakspere was long since 

gone. 

Shakspere lived, in a period of exultation and world-change 
and splendour, a peaceful, simple, almost banal sort of life. He 
began as supervisor and hack-poet, had his daily rehearsals, re¬ 
wrote plays, wrote a few of his own, bent over ledgers, costume- 
bills, and box-office takings, and only a few years before his death 
achieved his ideal: to live a care-free village-life in Stratford, far 
from theatrical make-up and manuscripts. The acknowledged 
11 poet laureate ” of the age was Ben Jonson, a man of stupendous 
learning, which he wove with amazing skill into his dramas, a 
tasteful maker of mosaics, a clear-thinking logician, who was 
thought a Classicist because he had modelled himself with care on 
the Roman technique of empty types, and who thought himself a 
high priest of art. Strange though it may sound to us, it is more 
than possible that his contemporaries saw in him the exponent of 
the high line, the poet marked for immortality, while Shakspere 
was an amusing and entertaining pot-boiler who wrote for the 

gallery. # . 

The low, or false, value placed on Shakspere in his lifetime has 

appeared so paradoxical to many that they have sought to find 
a way out of the puzzle by denying his existence — a queer way of 
explaining the contradiction! For it is already difficult enough to 
conceive how this unparalleled creative force lived in obscurity , 
it is quite inconceivable that it should never have existed at all. 

-UI 


The soul oj 
S/iakspen 



The retort to such doubters is to ask who, if not Shakspere, did 
write these thirty-six dramas whose power and depth have never 
been equalled. His name may perhaps not have been Shakspere, 
and what does his address matter? But he must have existed. 
Shakspere has come down to us in the surest and most trust¬ 
worthy way in which genius can give evidence of itself, by the 
works of its spirit. His plays are the most evidential proof of his 
existence. There are many who have their proofs of identity, and 
birth and death certificates, but are in the eyes of history as though 
they had never been. Shakspere is certified by no parson, register, 
or doctor and yet he lives. 

But we would give much today to be able to read a little into 
the soul of this “ myriad-minded man,” as Coleridge happily calls 
him. His soul is silent in his works: it has evaporated into the 
thousand-formed scintillating train of his characters. Macbeth is 
widely considered as the strongest blast of drama which this planet 
has hitherto produced, yet we do not know even today what 
Shakspere’s intentions were. Was he writing to distract the public 
by a train of compressed horrors to which they would involun¬ 
tarily succumb? Was he creating a contrast to Hamlet in a hero 
who was all action? Was he giving new and effective expression to 
some of the Scottish material which had become topical by James’s 
accession? Was he proclaiming the final truths about the world 
and destiny as they had revealed themselves to him at the peak of 
his career ? All such questions are but exhibitions of Philistinism; 
the lasting impression in Shakspere, even in the simplest comedies 
of the moment, is always that of a vast irrationality. The mysteri¬ 
ous triple quality of genius, which was discussed in the Introduc¬ 
tion, is to be seen in Shakspere in the most suggestive shape. He is 
the completest and intensest expression of his times: and although 
his times overlooked the source of the power-output, it influenced 
them in the most dominant and lasting manner imaginable; and 
yet the strongest feeling we have about him is that behind all these 
reciprocal activities he himself sits enthroned, a perfectly unique 
and unfathomable absurdity. To sum up in a word the essence of 
this incomprehensible man: he was the most complete play-actor 
who ever lived. Passionate but objective, slave of his subject yet 
its absolute master, he has characterized human nature in its 
crests and its roots, its shallows and its abysses, its refinements 



and its brutality, its dreams, its actions, and its contradictions. 
He is the crudest butcher and the most feminine sensitive, the 
finest artist and the most tasteless barbarian, strutting like the 
nobility of his time in an overload of jewellery, striking at nothing, 
favouring nothing. For all things are but a part, which is to be 
made as credible and as impressively illusionist as possible. Thus 
he is also wholly unscrupulous as a plagiarist—the very idea has 
no meaning to him. He takes his text wherever he finds it to 
hand, in the confidence that his words will create something better 
than these texts ever were. Himself he never appears, and when 
one day he has played out the whole repertoire of humanity, he 
packs away his glittering marionettes, steps out into the night, 
and vanishes for ever from the spectator’s vision. 

And this vast fantasy, which included all that has ever been 
and as much again, had to be actualized by the master in a wooden 
sailors’ tavern. What is still more remarkable, the theatre of this 
most erotic of all dramatists was womanless. But most wonderful 
of all, his dramas, though they had to manage without scenery, 
are at every instant pervaded and effectively influenced in their 
development by the dumb external world, which determines the 
destiny of men as truly as any of the real characters do so. The 
setting is so strongly painted and so organically connected with 
the circumstances that no modern dramatist, with all the illusion- 
technique of the present-day stage, has equalled him. In the first 
scene in Hamlet, for example, the ambience is part and parcel of 
the exposition; all who step upon this stage cannot but see Ham¬ 
let’s father: the ghost rises of necessity out of the mist and 
darkness. Or consider the night in Macbeth — it is almost the 
arch-conspirator; the storm-beaten heath in Lear; the atmos¬ 
phere of Romeo and Juliet, compounded of scented flowers, 
of moonlight, and of nightingale’s song; the magic sylvan world 
of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The whole of nature joins in 
the play in a strange pantheistic fashion, and causes feelings and 
actions to rise mysteriously from her bosom. 

Correspondingly Shakspere is one of the greatest poets of the 
unconscious, of the dumb and dark impulses which are the real 
motives of our actions and yet almost wholly escape our own 
guidance. Hence, too, the elemental effect of his dramas, which 
have the character of primary happenings, natural events-in- 


Shaksfere’ 
theatn 


'lA'l 



he world, 
a dream 


themselves; the inimitable realism which comes not from the 
surface but from the depths; the inexpressibility which he shares 
with life. The Montaigne-man, as we have seen, dug deeper than 
hitherto into the dark pit of man’s soul, and of necessity ended in 
agnosticism, and it is a similar world-feeling which makes Shak- 
spere’s drama so chaotic. This extends over external form also; 
he is the dramatist of a variegated succession of scenes, of a dis¬ 
solved architecture; and this precisely is what makes his theatre 
immortal. For the “ rigid system ” of Classicism can only live as 
long as the devotion to a rationalistic organization of the artistic 
sense survives, but Shakspere’s dramatic form belongs to all time; 
more, to all classes, ages, and levels of education; it is to the Clas¬ 
sical drama as the popular tale (which is just as immortal, though 
every age pronounces it dead) is to the artificial novel. Devrient, in 
his Geschichte dcr deutschen Schauspelkunst calls Shakspere’s 
dramas “ the highest sublimation of mediaeval drama.” And it is 
so. With all its clumsiness of technique and lack of individualiza¬ 
tion, the mediaeval drama is a treasure and a prize, the discovery 
of the true and only vital form of the drama. Pageantry of pictures 
and characters, mysticism and supernaturalism, are the inner¬ 
most essence of all theatre-art, and the last great magician of the 
theatre whom we have seen in Europe has returned, even if by 
circuitous paths, to this eternal form. For if occasionally Ibsen 
may seem to approach suspiciously near the classical unities of 
time and place, it is only a delusion. The fact that the scene re¬ 
mains unchanged is an unimportant accident of the surface, for 
the action in its varied intricacy and manifoldness, its thousand 
interactions, wherein past and future join in almost corporeal 
fashion, is the product of a romantic art-feeling; and as far as 
supematuralism is concerned, we feel, at the distance of a gen¬ 
eration, that works like Ghosts and Rosmersholm are only dis¬ 
tinguished from a fairy-tale by their modern and therefore more 
refined technique. 

Shakspere’s dramas are really plays, and that is why they are 
so amusing. They express the whole of existence as a dream, a 
masquerade, or, in more bitter terms, a madhouse. Action is folly; 
that is the nuclear wisdom of the dramas, and not of Hamlet only. 
Shakspere created a whole world of men of action, a complete 
zoology of this most varied species of ours, but he despised and 



laughed at them all. His whole life was devoted to drama, the 
representation of doing; the meaning of his mission was to paint 
copies of human activity — and he, as himself, thought all action 
meaningless, and his highest genius is expressed in the way in 
which he rises above his own active side. His whole philosophy is 
contained in the words of his epitaph: “We are such stuff as 
dreams are made on.” That, too, seems to me to be the meaning of 
Hamlet; Hamlet is so much a man of fantasy that in his dreams 
all that is to be is foreseen, presumed, thought to its end, and thus 
thought into non-existence; but things can only be experienced in 
full livingness once, either in imagination or in reality. Through 
no fault of his own, perhaps even against his will, Hamlet chose the 
first course; he dreamt the world so vividly that he could no longer 
live in it. 

And what was this Shakspere himself more than an airy 
dream-vision, a flickering film, a trembling ghost and nightmare, 
moving through the world, uncanny and unreal, mirroring and 
magically driving across our field all the manifold happenings of 
reality, as one gigantic illusion of the sense. He sank like a huge 
firework, flecking the heavens with flaming robes of passion and 
globes of wit, trailing behind him an unending stream of rattling 
laughter and glinting tears. 

The world as dream, as mystery, as chaos, is an apperception- 
form diametrically opposed to the Renaissance, of which Shak¬ 
spere is not the culmination, but the close and dissolution. The 
period from the middle of the sixteenth century to the outbreak of 
the Thirty Years’ War is the agony of the Renaissance, as can be 
seen most clearly in the land of its birth. Exactly in 155°* as though 
to mark an epoch, appeared Vasari’s famous work, which recapitu¬ 
lated and summed up the whole achievement of the Italian 
Renaissance. But already there had been significant changes of 
taste: in the hideous and bloody fantasy of Cellini’s Perseus, in 
the enthusiasm with which newly-excavated works, so entirely un- 
Classical in their abandon and their massiveness, like the Farnese 
sculptures — Flora, the Heracles, the Nile—were welcomed; 
in the applause meted out to the magniloquent compositions, 
verging almost on the grotesque, of Giulio Romano. The key-word 
henceforth is no longer contour, but movement; sculpture is 
s till the standard of all art-creation, but it is a new sculpture 


The agon 
of th 
Renmssanc 



that dominates, one that is drunk, and flung out of all paths of 
moderation. Added to this was the load, increasing every decade 
with more deadly weight, of a general Hispanization; like a web 
the power of Spain began to grasp north and south: immediately 
sovereign in Milan and Naples, indirectly ruling in Tuscany 
and Mantua, Piedmont and the Papal States. The discovery of 
America had destroyed the Mediterranean as a commercial cen¬ 
tre, and the great sea-powers of Venice and Genoa, gradually 
slipping from their heights, could no longer act as counterpoise. 
In Florence the Medici ruled no more as first citizens, but as 
Grand Dukes. The new popes were no longer world-friendly 
luxurious patrons of art, but fiery champions of the faith and 
earnest ascetics. Nowhere were men safe from the Inquisition. 
Italy, the nucleus of Classicism and freedom of the spirit, be¬ 
came romantic and clerical. But the masses, too, were willing 
supporters of the change, and the Counter-Reformation con¬ 
quered head and heart alike. Even Tintoretto is the perfect 
painter of a world in numb subjection to State and Church, an 
ice-world, illuminated only by the weird rays of an ecstatic faith. 
The Caracci tried fruitlessly to maintain the life of the Classical 
spirit, the more fruitlessly that they were themselves the uncon¬ 
scious victims of the new spirit. In 1583 the Niobe group was 
discovered, a pathetic, larmoyant work of the Greek decadence, 
and its traces are still visible in the religious pictures of Guido 
Reni, whose sugary pathos affects us simply as vile blasphemy. 
Under the influence of the Tridentine decisions the greatest 
composer of the age created the style known after him as the 
Palestrina style. Francesco Bracciolini attained the heights of 
popularity with his burlesque Lo Scherno degli Dei, a travesty of 
Classical mythology; Tassoni’s epic La Secchia rapita, which made 
Offenbach-fun of the Olympians, was famous throughout Europe 
— Venus is a mundane society lady, Jupiter a pompous old dull¬ 
ard, the Fates make bread, Mercury wears spectacles, Saturn 
has a cold and a red nose: the whole a barefaced parody of all 
Classicist art-tendencies. At the same time, after being artificially 
dammed back for almost a century, the wildness of mankind re¬ 
asserts itself. A brutal plebeian quality enters into art. Cara¬ 
vaggio, the greatest master of the period, led the life of a danger¬ 
ous hooligan and was nicknamed “the painter with the dirty 



feet.” The favourite subject was the anarchy of man and the 
wildness of nature; brigands, disreputable and noisy mobs, deso¬ 
lation of rock and precipice, storm-tossed waters, thunder and 
tempest. Europe drives on towards the Thirty Years’ War. 

This war was the product of the limitless coarseness, the nar¬ 
row particularism, and the fanatic squabbles of theology, and as 
such the strongest and most impressive concentration of the de¬ 
velopment of the preceding period. It was therefore a sort of clos¬ 
ing point, and yet, like every crisis, it was also the birth of some¬ 
thing new. It is the great watershed that divides and unites; and 
its treatment we shall reserve for a new volume. 

We have now seen how Europe, by the victory of Nominalism 
and the great trauma of the Black Death, was subjected to a colos¬ 
sal shock which showed its effects in a psychosis of more than a 
century, a period of expectation; how at the end of the incubation 
the new age definitely appeared, still unclear and uncertain, full of 
atavisms, reminiscences, and relapses, but already proclaiming its 
essence in an extreme, exclusive, and self-dependent rationalism, 
or, what comes to the same thing, sensualism; how in the Renais¬ 
sance of art and philosophy, in the Reformation of Church and 
State, everything was secularized, and a first comprehensive effort 
was made to subject the whole world of appearances to the order¬ 
ing, sifting, and calculating of reason, complete knowledge being 
proclaimed as the only legitimate power. A trauma of a new form 
closes the period of birth. And thus the genuine modern age only 
begins after the Peace of Westphalia, and what we have had to 
relate hitherto has been the prologue and prelude, the prehistory 
of the modern age. 

The following centuries bring with them the definitive, com¬ 
plete, and wholly conscious victory of the culture of reason. Thus 
they have a far more unitary character than the earlier stages: 
the precipitate of thought becomes stronger and clearer to us, the 
consolidating personalities richer and more numerous, the succes¬ 
sive types of life and style demarcated and outlined with a de¬ 
gree of sharpness that so far we have only once met at the 

height of the Italian Renaissance. 

Reason, which awoke at the beginning of the sixteenth cen¬ 
tury and ever more extended and strengthened her supremacy 
during that century, begins at the turn of the new century to 

<?47 


The second 
traumc 


The ne <i 
questio 



totter, and during the next fifty years is to lose her way; she 
observes the confusion, the contradictions, the disillusions, and 
the sufferings of life, problems for which she finds no solution, and 
then takes refuge in religion. But she still exists and will not be 
simply extinguished. Yet how to be both realist and rationalist, as 
one is by destiny, and yet supernaturalist and homo religiosus, 
as one would gladly be by choice? How unite these two outer 
extremes, how fuse these two extremest contradictions of human 
being? With this question and the attempt to answer it we are 
already in the midst of the Baroque. 


348 



CHRONOLOGY 


1348 

c. 1350 

i35i 

1354 

1356 

1358 

1361 

1365 

c. 1370 

1372 

1374 

137s 

13 77 
1378 

1381 

1384 

1386 

1389 

1396 

1397 

1399 

1400 

1405 

1409 

1410 

1414 

1415 

1417 

1420 


Black Death 

Buchlein vom vollkommenen Leben 
Konrad von Megenberg: Buck der Natur 
Death of Rienzi 
Golden Bull 
French Jacquerie 

Death of Tauler. Fall of Adrianople 

Death of Suso 

Piers Plowman 

Death of Meister Wilhelm 

Death of Petrarch 

Death of Boccaccio 

End of the Babylonish Captivity 

Death of Charles IV: Wenceslas. Beginning of the 

Great Schism 

Death of Ruysbroeck 

Death of Wyclif 

Battle of Sempach. Poland-Lithuania 

Battle of Kossovo 

Battle of Nicopolis 

Union of Kalmar 

House of Lancaster in England 

Wenceslas deposed: Rupert of the Palatinate. The 
Medici in Florence. Death of Chaucer 
Death of Froissart 
Council of Pisa: three popes 

Death of Rupert: Sigismund. Battle of Tannenberg 

Beginning of the Council of Constance 

Burning of Huss. The Hohenzollerns in Brandenburg 

Battle of Agincourt 

End of the Great Schism 

Beginning of the Hussite wars 

349 



1426 

1428 

1429 

1440 


1441 

1445 

1446 

H 50 
c. 1450 

1452 

1453 
1455 

1458 

1459 
1461 

1464 

1466 

1471 

1472 

1475 

1477 

1478 

1479 

1480 

1483 

1485 

1487 

1488 

1489 

1490 
1492 


Death of Hubert van Eyck 
Death of Masaccio 
Joan of Arc 

Frederick III, German Emperor. Nicolaus Cusanus: 
Be docta ignorantia. Death of Jan van Eyck. Platonic 
Academy of Florence 
Imitatio Christi finished 
Cape Verde 
Death of Brunelleschi 
Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan 
Gutenberg: book-printing 
Birth of Leonardo da Vinci 
Fall of Constantinople. Death of John Dunstaple 
Death of Fra Angelico. Death of Ghiberti 
^Eneas Sylvius, Pope 
Beginning of the Wars of the Roses 
Louis XI of France. House of York in England 
Death of Cosimo de’ Medici. Death of Nicolaus Cu¬ 
sanus. Death of Rogier van der Weyden 
Cession of West Prussia to Poland; East Prussia a 
Polish fief. Death of Donatello 
First observatory. Birth of Diirer 
Death of Alberti 
Birth of Michelangelo 

Fall of Charles the Bold; the Netherlands become 

$ 

Habsburg by marriage. Birth of Titian 
Introduction of the Inquisition 
Castile-Aragon 

Overthrow of the Mongol domination in Russia 

Death of Louis XI: Charles VIII. Birth of Rabelais. 

Birth of Raphael. Birth of Luther 

House of Tudor in England: end of the Wars of the 

Roses 

Cape of Good Hope 
Death of Verrocchio 
The Witches' Hammer 
Martin Behaim: globe 

Discovery of America. Conquest of Granada. Rodrigo 
Borgia Pope. Death of Lorenzo de’ Medici 

350 



1494 Sebastian Brant: Narrenschiff. Death of Pico della 
Mirandola 

1495 Death of Memling 

1498 Sea route to the East Indies. Burning of Savonarola. 
Reinke de Vos 

1499 Independence of Switzerland 

c. 1500 Spinetti: the spinet 

1500 Discovery of Brazil 

1505 First postal service 

1506 Reuchlin: Hebrew grammar. Death of Mantegna 

1509 Accession of Henry VIII of England. Erasmus: En¬ 
comium moria 

1510 Pocket-watches. Death of Botticelli 

1513 Leo X, Pope 

1514 Death of Bramante. Machiavelli: II Principe 

1515 Francis I, King of France. Battle of Marignan. Epis- 
tolce obscurorum virorum 

1516 House of Habsburg in Sp ain. Ariosto: Orlando Furioso. 
More: Utopia. 

1517 Luther nails the theses to the church-door at Witten¬ 
berg. Egypt conquered by the Turks 

1519 Death of Maximilian I: Charles V. Death of Leonardo 
da Vinci 

1520 Death of Raphael. Blood-bath of Stockholm 

1521 Conquest of Mexico. Diet of Worms. Capture of Bel¬ 
grade 

1522 End of the first circumnavigation of the globe. Luther’s 
Bible 

1523 House of Vasa in Sweden. Fall of Sickingen. Death of 
Hutten 

1524 Death of Perugino 

1525 German Peasants’ War. Battle of Pavia 

1526 Battle of Mohacs 

1527 Death of Machiavelli. Sack of Rome 

1528 Death of Durer 

1529 Death of Griinewald. The Turks before Vienna 

1530 Diet of Augsburg: Confessio Augustana 

1531 Fall of Zwingli. Church of England 

1532 Conquest of Peru. Religious Peace of Niirnberg 





1533 Death of Ariosto 

1534 Death of Correggio 

1535 The Anabaptists of Munster 

1537 Wullenweber beheaded 

1540 Foundation of the Jesuit Order. Servetus: pulmonary 
circulation 

1541 Death of Paracelsus. Calvin at Geneva: Knox in Scot¬ 
land 

1543 Death of the younger Holbein. Copernicus: De revolu- 
tionibus orbium ccelestium. Vesalius: De humani cor¬ 
poris fabrica 

1545 Death of Sebastian Franck. Beginning of the Council 

of Trent 

1546 Death of Luther 

1547 Battle of Miihlberg. Death of Francis I. Death of 
Henry VIII 

1553 Death of Rabelais. Burning of Servetus 

1555 Religious Peace of Augsburg 

1556 Abdication of Charles V: Ferdinand I becomes Em¬ 
peror, and Philip II King of Spain. Death of Loyola 

1557 B attle of Saint-Quentin 

1558 Accession of Elizabeth in England. Battle of Gravelines 

1560 Death of Melanchthon. Nicot: tobacco 

1561 Birth of Francis Bacon 

1564 Death of Ferdinand I: Maximilian II. Death of Calvin. 
Death of Michelangelo. Birth of Shakspere 

1568 Execution of Egmont 

1569 Mercator’s map of the world 

1571 Battle of Lepanto. London Stock Exchange 

1572 Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Death of Knox 

1576 Death of Maximilian II: Rudolf II. Death of Hans 
Sachs. Death of Titian 

1577 Birth of Rubens 

1579 Union of Utrecht 

1580 Death of Palladio. Portugal becomes Spanish. Mon¬ 
taigne : Essais 

1581 Tasso : Gerusalemme liberata, 

1582 Gregorian calendar 

1584 William of Orange murdered 



1586 Stevinus: theory of the inclined plane; the hydrostatic 
paradox; communicating tubes 

1587 Execution of Mary Queen of Scots 

1588 The Spanish Armada 

1589 Henry IV: House of Bourbon in France 

1591 Death of Fischart 

1592 Death of Montaigne 

1593 Death of Marlowe 

1594 Death of Orlando Lasso. Death of Palestrina. Death 
of Tintoretto. Birth of opera 

1595 Death of Tasso 

1596 Birth of Descartes 

1597 Galileo: the thermometer 

1598 Edict of Nantes. Birth of Bernini 

1600 Burning of Giordano Bruno. Gilbert: terrestrial mag¬ 
netism. English East India Company 

1601 Death of Tycho de Brahe 

1602 Dutch East India Company 

1603 Death of Elizabeth: personal union of England and 
Scotland. Shakspere: Hamlet 

1606 Birth of Rembrandt 

1608 Lippershey: the telescope. Protestant Union 

1609 Cervantes: Don Quixote. Catholic League 

1610 Murder of Henry IV 

1611 Kepler’s astronomical telescope. Gustavus Adolphus 
becomes King of Sweden 

1612 Death of Rudolph II: Matthias 

1613 House of Romanov in Russia 

1614 Napier’s logarithms 

1616 Death of Cervantes. Death of Shakspere 

1618 Outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War 


353 jTAf 





INDEX 


Abelard, 75 
Absalom, 330 
Achilles, 63 

Adler, Alfred, 58, 59, 
62, 67 

iEschines, 175 
Agesilaus, 304 
Agricola, George, 207 
Alba, 295, 311 
Albert, 175 

Alberti, Leon Battista, 
157, 176, 181 
Alcibiades, 129, 179 
Alexander the Great, 
13, 45? 66, 174, 223 
Altenberg, 66 
Althusius, John, 300, 
301 

Anselm of Canterbury, 
77 

Antiochus, 265 
Aquinas, Thomas, 78, 
175 

Aretino, Pietro, 164 
Ariosto, 182 
Aristarchus of Samos, 
212 

Aristotle, 13, 28, 45, 
173, 175, 213, 249, 
256, 329? 334? 336? 

33 . 9 . 

Arminius, Jacob, 299 
Atahuallpa, 222 
Attila, 62 
Auer, 237 

Augustine, 28, 45, 75, 
77, 78, 79, 141, I7S, 
2 37, 254, 257, 258, 
262 


Augustus II of Saxonia, 
188 

Aureol, Pierre, 87 

Babington, Antony, 
301 

Bach, 17, 38 
Bacon, Francis, 28, 102, 
304? 322, 330, 331, 

332? 333? 334? 335? 
336 ? 337? 338? 339? 
340 

Bacon, Roger, 335 
Baer, Karl Ernst von, 
215 

Bahr, Hermann, 47, 
268 

Balzac, 69 
Baudelaire, 43 
Bauhin, Kaspar, 327 
Bayazid, Sultan, 113 
Becher, Erich, 5, 6 
Behaim, Martin, 207, 
214 

Bembo, 192 
Berenger of Tours, 253 
Bernhardi, 291 
Bernini, 188 
Bismarck, 11, 43, 66, 
239 

Boccaccio, 154, 155 
Bodin, John, 300, 301 
Bohme, Jakob, 318, 322 
Boileau, 316 
Bonaventura, 154 
Borgia, Pope Alexan¬ 
der, 194 

Borgia, Csesar, 69, 187, 
194? 223 

+ 

1 


Bossuet, 7 
Both well, 323 
Boucher, 189 
Bracciolini, Francesco, 
346 

Brahe, Tycho de, 
327 

Brant, Sebastian, 233, 
274 . 

Breysig, Kurt, 36, 37, 
4i? 55 

Bruno, Giordano, 184, 
319? 320, 321, 322 
Brutus, 8 
Buckle, 30 
Buddha, 70, 143 
Bunsen, 66 

Burckhardt, Jakob, 9, 
14? 32, 33? 187 
Burdach, Konrad, 148, 

I 54? 155 

Burne-Jones, 26 
Byron, 63, 317 

Cabot, John, 215 
Cabral, Pedro, 215 
Csesar, Julius, 8,13, 14, 
66, 249 

Caillet (Jacques Bon- 
homme), 116 
Calderon, 169, 314 
Caligula, 69 
Calvin, 253, 261, 262, 
283, 288, 295 
Campanella, Tommaso, 

334 

Caravaggio, 346 
Cardano, Geronimo, 
326 



Carlos, Don, 305, 312 
Carlyle, 7, 15, 24, 36, 
66, 240 

Castiglione, Count Bal¬ 
thasar, 190 

Cavalieri, Tommaso 
dei, 186 

Cecil, Lord, 318 
Cellini, 345 

Celtes, Conrad, 223, 
274 

Cervantes, 313 
Chamberlain, Houston, 
55 

Charlemagne, 62, 169, 
283 

Charles the Bold, 9 
Charles I, emperor of 
Austria, 269 
Charles IV, German 
emperor, 114 
Charles V, German em¬ 
peror, 164, 223, 266, 
267, 269, 312 
Charles VI of France, 
”5 

Charles VII of France, 

9 

Chastellain, George, 9 
Chaucer, 99 
Chavannes, Puvis de, 
153 

Chigi, Agostino, 158, 
161 

Cicero, 12, 172, 173, 

m, 177 ,249 

Cimabue, 45, 154 
Claudius, Emperor, 

10 

Clement, Jacob, 301, 
302 

Cochlsus, John, 283 
Coiter, 327 
Coleridge, 342 
Colonna, Vittoria, 186 


Columbus, 214, 215, 
216 

Comte, 31 

Copernicus, 211, 212 
Coquelin, 36 
Cortez, Hernando, 217 
Cranach, Lucas, 279, 
281, 282 

Crell, Nicolas, 298 
Cromwell, 13, 230 
Cusanus, Nicolaus, 
132, 133 

Dante, *5, 5i, 69, 139, 
154 , 155 , ISO, 180, 
197, 198, 255, 289, 

294 , 317 
Danton, 69 
Darnley, 323 
Darwin, Charles, 39, 

63,336 

Darwin, Erasmus, 336 
Defregger, 24 
Demosthenes, 62, 175 
Descartes, 21, 252 
Devrient, 344 
Diaz, Bartolomeo, 214 
Dilthey, Wilhelm, 319 
Dostoievski, 66, 69 
Drake, 325 
Dry den, 100 
Duns, John (Scotus), 
87 

Dunstaple, John, 135 
Diirer, 280 

Eck, Joh., 283 
Eckermann, 43, 44 
Eckhart, Meister, 137, 
138, 142, 144, 14s 
Edison, 289 
Edward VI of England, 
322 

Egmont, 307 
Ehrlich, Paul, 61 


Eimer, Theodor, 64 
Elizabeth of England, 
2 95> 301, 312, 315' 
318, 322, 323, 324, 

^ 325, 327, 330 
Emerson, 16, 43, 338 
Erasmus of Rotterdam, 
2 3S ? 274, 275, 276,’ 
335 

Essex, 318, 323, 325, 

33°, 33L 34° 

Euripides, 17 

Eyck, Hubert van, 144 
Eyck, Jan van, 143, 
144 

Faraday, 42 
Faust, 13, i2r, 224, 225, 
226, 227, 313 
Ferdinand I, German 
emperor, 312 
Ferdinand II, German 
emperor, 269 
Ferroniere, La, 223 
Ficino, Marsilio, 174 
Fischart, 274 
Fliess, Wilhelm, 53 
Fogg, Phileas, 217 
Francis I, King of 
France, 164, 223, 

266, 316 

Francis II, German 
emperor, 269 
Francis Joseph I, em¬ 
peror of Austria, 269 
Francis, Saint, of Assisi, 

70 

Franck, Sebastian, 142, 
244, 264, 265, 281 
Fraunhofer, 42 
Frederick I of Ger¬ 
many, 131 

Frederick II of Ger¬ 
many, 126, 128, 129, 
13 °, 



Frederick III of Ger¬ 
many, iis 

Frederick the Great, 
13, 62, 128, 131, 233 
Frederick of Austria, 

91 

Frederick the Wise, 
Elector of Saxony, 
266 

Freidank, 122 
Freud, Sigmund, 58 
Frey tag, Gustav, 55 
Froissart, 99 

Gabotto, Giovanni, 
215 

Galen, 209 

Galileo, 252, 320, 328, 

329 ? 336 , 337 
Gauss, 336 

Geiler von Kaiserberg, 
102, 122 

Gerard, Balthasar, 301 
Gerson (chancellor), 

117 

Gesner, Konrad, 207 
Gilbert, William, 3, 
327 ? 336 

Giotto, 45, 154 ? I SS 
Goes, Hugo van der, 

143 

Goethe, 9, 13, 14, 33 , 
36, 42, 43, 44, 45 , 58, 
69, 169, 192, 225, 
228, 233, 252, 272, 

334 , 336 

Gomarus, Francis, 299 
Goncourt, Edmond de, 
189 

Gongora, Luis de, 314 
Gozzoli, Benozzo, 185 
Gravelines, 307 
Greco, El, 9 
Greene, 325 
Gregory IX, Pope, 131 


Gresham, Sir Thomas, 
326 

Gretry, 61 
Grimberger, 329 
Grimm, Hermann, 191, 

193, 247 

Groot, Gerhardt, 140 
Grotius, Hugo, 299, 
300, 301 

Guise, Frangois de, 
302 

Guise, Henry of, 330 
Gundolf, F riedrich, 

196 

Gutenberg, 210, 224, 
245 

Haeckel, 240 
Hale, Peter, 207 
Halley, 329 
Hamann, 320 
Hansemann, David 
Paul, 66 

Harnack, Adolf, 237 
Harvey, 336 
Hauptmann, Gerhard, 
I4> 25 

Hawkins, 325 
Hebbel, 58, 69 
Hegel, 20, 30, 41, 43, 
133 

Heimann, Moritz, 230 
Helmholtz, 66 
Helmont, van, 327 
Henry VI of England, 
US 

Henry VIII of Eng¬ 
land, 266, 299, 322 
Henry II of France, 
301 

Henry IV of France, 
301, 312, 318 . 
Henry the Navigator, 

213 

Heracles, 171 

• « • 

ill 


Herder, 14, 29, 33, 206, 
252 

Herod, 265 

Herodotus, 14, 16, 28, 
99 

Hippocrates, 184 
Hoensbroech, Graf von, 
285 

Holbein, 62, 322 
Holderlin, 66 
Homer, 17, 28, 63, 171, 
172, 174, 224 
Hroswitha, 75, 274 
Hugo, Victor, 36 
Huizinga, 117 
Humboldt, 33 
Huss, 114, 118 
Hutten, Ulrich von, 
162, 223, 232, 236, 
271 

t 

Ibsen, 11, 17,43,169, 

344 < 

Imperia, 166 
Ingres, 153 
Institor, Henry, 283 
Isaiah, 175 

James I of England, 
301, 323, 325, 326, 

3 ^ 7 ? 330 , 342 
Jansen, Zacharias, 328 
Jensen, J. V., 273, 274 
Jesus, 79,130, 138,139, 
141, 142, 173, 195, 
253, 2 S 5 > 2 S6, 257, 

263, 264, 287, 289, 
290, 291, 304, 305 
Joan of Arc, 9, 116 
Joao II, King, 214 
Johanna the Mad, 305 
John the Baptist, 282 
John the Evangelist, 
290 

John XXII, Pope, 137 



Jonson, Ben, 339 , 34 i 
Joseph II of Germany, 
101, 269 

Jost of Moravia, 91 
Joule, 42 

Juan of Austria, Don, 

307 

Julius II, Pope, 162, 
165, 223 

Kahler, Erich von, 268 

Kant, 33, 45 , 47 , 63, 
202, 252, 333 
Karlstadt, 262 
Kempis, Thomas a, 140 
Kepler, 285, 318, 327, 
328, 329, 330,336, 

337 

Khan, Ogdai, 102 
Knigge, Adolf Freiherr 
von, 190 
Knox, John, 300 
Korner, 30 
Krauss, Karl, 148 

Lselius, 298 
Lai's, 63 

Lamprecht, 34, 36, 37, 
4 i 

Langland, William, 126 
Lassalle, 237 
Laube, 62 

Laurence, Saint, 307 
Leibniz, 28, 133, 320 
Leicester, 323 
Lenau, 66 
Lenbach, 62 
Lenin, 147 

Leo X, Pope, 162, 192, 
196, 223 

Leonardo da Vinci, 45, 
62,187,192,336,337 
Lessing, 21, 28, 248 
Liebknecht, 147 
Lichtenberg, 63, 186 


Linnaeus, 327 
Lippershey, Hans, 328 
Liudprand of Cremona, 
Bishop, 268 
Lochner, Stefan, 144 
Loeb, Jacques, 61 
Lombroso, 65, 67 
Lope de Vega, 313, 314 
Louis of Bavaria, 91 
Louis Philippe of 
France, 128 
Louis XI of France, ti6 
Louis XIV, 38, 124-3, 
170, 188, 230 
Loyola, Ignatius, 302, 

3°3 

Ludendorff, 147 
Luther, 13, 66, 130, 
140, 142, 190, 192, 
211, 224, 229, 232, 
233, 235, 236, 237, 
238, 240, 241, 242, 
244, 245, 246, 247, 
248, 249, 251, 252, 
253, *54, 257, 258, 
261, 262, 264, 265, 
267, 271, 272, 274, 
277, 282, 283, 287, 
288, 302 

Luther, Kate, 287 
Luther, Margaret, 283 
Lysander, 129 

Mabillon, 61 
Macaulay, 16, 300, 330, 

337 ? 338 ^ 

Machiavelli, 7, 164, 

184, 193, 194, 276 
Maeterlinck, 76 
Magalhaes, FernSo, 216 
Malherbe, Frangois de, 
3x6 

Manet, 190 
Mantegna, 176 
Marconi, 64, 289 


Marcus Graecus, 102 
Mariano, Fra, 161 
Marini, Giambattista, 
314? 3XS 
Marlowe, 325 
Marx, 27, 202, 237, 
288 

Mary I of England, 
311, 322 

Mary Queen of Scots, 
3°o, 3 2 3 

Mary, the Virgin, 138, 
292 

Matkovsky, 62 
Matthew, 288, 290 
Maultasch, Margarete, 
42 

Maupassant, 66 
Maurice of Saxony, 
238, 266, 267 
Mauthner, Fritz, 55 
Maximilian I, German 
emperor, 269 
Maximilian II, German 
emperor, 3x2 
Medici, Catherine de’, 
318 

Medici, Cosimo de’, 
174 . 

Medici, Lorenzo de’, 
X 95 

Megcnberg, Konrad 
von, 98 

Meiningen, George, 
duke of, 42 

Melanchthon, 211, 224, 
249, 271, 262, 277, 
297. 

Memling, Hans, 144 
Mendel, Joh. Gregor, 
42 

Mendoza, 313 
Mengs, Raphael, 9, 189 
Menzel, 62, 66 
Meray, C. H., 40 


IV 



Mercator (Gerhard 
Kremer), 208 
Merswin, Rulman, 135 
Mezeray, 223 
Michelangelo, 63, 69, 
164, 165, 185, 186, 
188, 189, 192 
Minos, 339 
Mirabeau, 237 
Mohammed, 13, 66, 130 
Mohler, Adam, 259 
Moliere, 21, 26, 99, 
314 

Mommsen, 14, 66 
Montaigne, 16, 316, 

3*7, 318, 322, 344 
Montesquieu, 14 
Montezuma, 217, 222 
Moro, Lodovico, 187 
Morse, 237 
Moses, 130, 239 
Mozart, 169 
Miihlberg, 270 
Muller, Johannes, 22 
Multscher, Hans, 143 
Miinzer, Thomas, 250, 
262, 263 

Murner, Thomas, 274 
Mussolini, 147 

Napier, John, 327 
Napoleon, 13, 26, 62, 
66, 192, 307 
Nebuchadnezzar, 85 
Nepomuk, John of, 

Nero, 70, 236 
Nettesheim, Agrippa 
von, 208 
Nicot, Jean, 325 
Nietzsche, 16, 18, 25, 

36 , 37 , 41, 58 , 66, 69, 
88, 129, 13 x, 168, 
2 33 , 237, 252, 254, 
255 , 332 


Ninon de Lenclos, 63 
Noah, 315 
Novalis, 58 

Occam, Wilhelm von, 
87, 88, 89, 134 
Oldenbarneveldt, 299 
Orange, William of, 
301, 318 

Palestrina, 184, 346 
Palissy, 327 

Paracelsus, 208-9, 
238 

Pare, 327 
Pascal, 2i, 46, 305 
Paul, Saint, 45, 66, 70, 
241, 251, 254, 256, 

25 7 , 299 

Paul III, Pope, 211 
Peele, 325 
Pelagius, 258 
Pericles, 23, 28, 169-70, 

179, 184 

Perugino, 185 
Peter, 137, 234, 235, 
288 

Petrarch, 94, 154, 155, 
172 

Pharnabazus, 304 
Phidias, 180, 184 
Philip II of Macedonia, 
45 ? 66 

Philip II of Spain, 305, 
3o6, 307, 308, 309, 
3ii? 3*2? 313? 3 2 2 
Phryne, 63 
Piccolomini, 327 
Pico della Mirandola, 
Francesco, 175 
Pico della Mirandola, 
Giovanni, 153, 174 
Pilate, 290 
Pis-anello, 185 
Pisistratus, 330 


Pizarro, Francisco, 222, 
223 

Plato, 21, 24, 27,45, 66, 
77 ? 143 ? 173 ? 174 ? 
175 ? 179 ? 212, 289, 
338 

Plautus, 224 
Plotinus, 174 
Plutarch, 46, 180, 212 
Poe, 66, 69 
Poggio, 174 
Polo, Marco, 214 
Pol trot de Mere, 302 
Polycletus, 38 
Pompadour, Marquise 
de, 63 

Pomponazzi, Pietro, 
234 

Priessnitz, 42 
Proudhon, 44 
Ptolemy, 40 208, 212, 
213 

Quintilian, 174 

Rabelais, 238, 275, 
276 

Racine, 21, 202 
Raleigh, Walter, 323, 

32 S? 330 
Ranke, 10, 33 

Raphael, 158, 162, 164, 
165, 166, 181, 188, 
189, 190, 191, 192 
Ravaillac, Francois, 301 
Regiomontanus, 98 
Rembrandt, 38 
Reni, Guido,‘346 
Reuchlin, 207, 274 
Rienzi, 1x4, 154, 155 
Riese, Adam, 207 
Rizzio, David, 323 
Robespierre, 69 
Romano, Giulio, 345 
Rossetti, 26 



Rousseau, 27, 66, 172, 
173, 2 5 2 > 316 
Royer, Philoxene, 43 
Rubens, 26, 66 
Rudolf of Habsburg, 
126, 127, 129, 131 
Rudolf II, German em¬ 
peror, 314, 327 
Rudolf, Crown Prince, 
269 

Rudolff, Christopher, 
207 

Ruge, Arnold, 32 
Ruskin, 189 
Ruysbroeck, Johann, 
139, 142, 144 

Sachs, Hans, 232, 274, 
281, 282 

Saint Victor, Hugh de, 
7 8 

Saint Victor, Richard 
de, 78 

Salutali, Benedetto, 
160 

Sanzio, see Raphael 
Savage, John, 301 
Savonarola, 175, 180, 
185 

Schedel, Hartman, 207 
Scheiner, Father, 328, 

3 2 9 

Schelling, 320 
Scherer, Wilhelm, 55 
Scherr, Johannes, 128 
Scheurl, Christopher, 
277 

Schiller, 7, 14, 30, 32, 

33 ) 43) 58, 69, 233, 
252 

Schleich, K. L., 303 
Schopenhauer, 20, 45, 

66, 79 ) H3, 1S6, 169, 
252, 294 
Schubert, 63 


Schwarz, Berthold, 
102, 207 

Schwenckfeld, Kaspar, 
264 

Seneca, 236, 337 
Senfl, Ludwig, 252 
Sennacherib, 265 
Servetus, 262 
Sforza, Francesco, 166, 
187 

Shakspere, 14, 17, 25, 
45, 46, 69, IIS, 169, 
196, 197, 314, 3x5, 
317, 322, 325, 339, 

34 1 ? 342, 343 ? 344 , 
345 

Shaw, Bernard, 14 
Sickingen, Franz von, 
271 

Sigismund, Emperor, 
91, 114, 1x6 
Signorelli, 176 
Silvius, iEneas (Pope 
Pius II), 174, 180 
Sirach, Jesus, 250 
Socrates, 25, 27, 38, 45, 
180, 184, 338 
Sodoma (Giovananto- 
nio Bazzi), 185 
Sonnenthal, 36 
Sophocles, 184 
Sozzini, Faustus, 298 
Spengler, Oswald, 13, 

37 ) 38, 39 ) 40 , 4 h 45 ) 
218 

Sperber, Hans, 288 
Spielhagen, 24 
Sprenger, Jacob, 283 
Stein, Lorenz von, 6, 
18 

Stevin, Simon, 327 
Strindberg, 14, 26, 66, 
69, 169, 285 
Strozzi, Lorenzo, 158, 
161 

vi 


Suetonius, 9, 10 
Suso, Heinrich, 139 
144 

Taine, 33, 34, 41 
Tasso, 66, 182 
Tassoni, Alessandro, 
312,346 

Tauler, Johannes, 139 
Telesio, Bernardino, 
335 

Terence, 224, 248 
Tertullian, 78, 230 
Tetzel, 242 
Thcmistocles, 179 
Thucydides, 10, 28, 

184 

Tiberius, 69 
Tintoretto, 346 
Tirso de Molina, 315 
Titian, 166, 270 
Titus, 85 
Tolstoi, 197 
Torquemada, Thomas 
de, 69 

Treitschke, 19 
Troels-Lund, 81 
Tudor, Margaret, 323 

Urban VIII, Pope, 329 
Urf6, Honor6 d ? , 316 

Valla , Laurentius, 132, 
174 

Van Gogh, 66 
Varro, 173 
Vasa, Gustavus, 271 
Vasari, 55, 154, 164, 
181, 345 

Vasco da Gama, 214 
Velasquez, 190 
Vesalius, 207 
Vespucci, Amerigo, 215 
Vieta, Frangois, 326 
Viollet-le-Duc, 153 



Virgil, 121 

Vischer, Friedrich The¬ 
odor, 21 
Vitruvius, 176 
Vives, Ludovicus, 335 
Voltaire, 25, 29, 88, 154, 
169, 202, 253 
Vries, Hugo de, 64 
Vulpius, 8 

W agner, 13.36,169 
Wallenstein, 12 
Weigel, Valentin, 264 


Wenzel, King, 91, 

US 

Wesel, Johann von 

(d. 1480), 235 
Wessel, Johann (1419- 

89), 234-5 

Weyden, Rogier van 
der, 144 

Wilamowitz - Mollen- 
dorff, 14 

Wilde, Oscar, 26, 197 
Winckelmann, 14, 29, 
30, 189, 202 


vu 


Winkelried, Arnold von, 
103 

Wittenberg, 224 
Wolf, Hugo, 66 
Wolter, Charlotte, 62 
Wyclif, 116, 118, 120, 
234 

Zinzendorf, 259 
Zwingli, 245, 253, 264, 
265 



A NOTE 

ON THE TYFE IN 
WHICH THIS BOOK IS SET 


This book has been ser in a 
modern adaptation of a type de¬ 
signed by William Caslon, the 
first (1692-1766), who, it is gener¬ 
ally conceded, brought the old- 
style letter to ns highest perfec¬ 
tion. An artistic easily-read type, 
Caslon has had two centuries of 
ever-increasing popularity in our 
own country—it is of interest to 
note that the first copies of the 
Declaration of Independence and 
the first paper currency distrib¬ 
uted to die citizens of the new¬ 
born nation were printed in this 
type face. 


SET UP, ELECTROTYPE!), PRINTED 
AND BOUND BY THE PLIMPTON 
PRESS, NORWOOD, MASS.